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Rotating Lights in the Desert

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

Always a pleasure to see new work from Reuben Wu, whose stuff I’ve featured here before. For this piece, Wu journeys into the audiovisual realm, combining his light-forward photography with his music production work (he’s a member of the band Ladytron). Colossal, as usual, has the skinny:

For EX STASIS, Wu programmed a stick of 200 LED lights to shift in color and shape above the calm landscapes. He captured the mesmerizing movements in-camera, and through a combination of stills, timelapse, and real-time footage, produced four audiovisual works that juxtapose the natural scenery with the artificially produced light and electronic sounds. “As it gets dark, my surroundings cease to be an exterior experience and become a subliminal space, and that’s when I feel most connected and aware of my sense of being,” Wu says. “This dynamic terrestrial chiaroscuro synchronizes with my sound design and music to form singular looping pieces.”

“Dynamic terrestrial chiaroscuro”!!! Also, this photo from Wu’s Insta is just fricking beautiful. (via colossal)

Flat-Packed Pastas That Pop Open When Cooked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2021

Flat Packed Pasta

Inspired by space-saving flat-packed furniture, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a technique for making pasta shapes that start out flat when dry but “morph” into their final 3D shapes when cooked. The secret is stamping different groove patterns into the pasta dough.

The solution: something Wang, Yao, and their co-authors term “groove-based transient morphing.” They found that stamping flat pasta sheets with different groove patterns enabled them to control the final pasta shape after cooking. According to the authors, the grooves increase how long it takes to cook that part of the pasta. So those areas expand less than the smooth areas, giving rise to many different shapes.

The team found that the pasta reached its maximum bending angle after about 12 minutes and retained this angle for around 20 minutes before it began to bend back. The researchers were able to produce simple helical and cone shapes, as well as more complex saddles and twists (the latter achieved by introducing double-sided grooves).

I am assuming those grooves would also aid in holding sauce better, a topic we’ve delved into recently. You can read the full research paper on the morphing pasta here. (via the prepared)

Labor Shortage or Terrible Jobs?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Anne Helen Peterson noticed a bunch of reports about fast food & retail businesses around the US having trouble finding employees, which difficulty the business owners are blaming on lazy American workers whose unemployment benefits have been extended/expanded during the pandemic. But what if, she writes, those benefits are actually providing a safety net to American workers so that they do not need to take terrible jobs for low wages at terrible companies under terrible management? The ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy:

Stick with me here, but what if people weren’t lazy — and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It’s not the labor force that’s breaking. It’s the economic model.

Unemployment benefits have offered a steady paycheck while you figure out your options. Put differently: a version of the safety net that’s been missing from most American employment, and, by extension, the ability to say no. No, I don’t have to work for a restaurant that only gives me my hours three days ahead of time, thus making it nearly impossible to find reliable childcare. No, I don’t have to work clopen shifts. No, I don’t have to expect a job without sick leave or paid time off. No, I don’t have to deal with asshole customers or managers who degrade me without consequence. No, I don’t have to work in a job with significant, accumulating health risks.

Her question near the end of the piece is worth considering: “If a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business?”

When a Raindrop Falls in the US, Where Does It End Up?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

map showing the path of a raindrop that fell in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

a satellite fly-through view of the path of a raindrop that fell in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

Using data from the United States Geological Survey, River Runner visualizes the path taken by a raindrop from its landing spot to its eventual endpoint. Just click on any spot in the US and it maps out the path the drop would take, complete with a satellite fly-through of the route. I spent many happy minutes playing with this, although the endpoint of “Canada” for a raindrop that lands in my Vermont yard was somewhat unsatisfying.

See also The Marvelous Mississippi River Meander Maps and a map of all of the rivers in the US. (via waxy)

Aerial Footage of Chicago from a Dirigible (1914)

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

From the US National Archives, an 8-minute film of aerial footage filmed from a dirigible piloted by Roy Knabenshue in 1914. I am not super familiar with Chicago and the architecture of the time, but given the city’s role in the development & popularization of the skyscraper, I bet there are some amazing views in here of iconic buildings not so long after they were constructed as well as some buildings and spaces that no longer exist.

If you wish, you can also watch the upsampled, colorized, and “AI enhanced” version of this video. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of these, uh, restorations. We shouldn’t accept crappy colorization of historic B&W films just because an AI did it. (via @davidplotz)

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

“You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

Olga Khazan, writing for the NY Times in an essay adapted from her book Weird, tells us that if we’re not satisfied with our personalities, we can change them.

After all, the person who emerges from quarantine doesn’t have to be the same old you. Scientists say that people can change their personalities well into adulthood. And what better time for transformation than now, when no one has seen you for a year, and might have forgotten what you were like in the first place?

It was long thought that people just are a certain way, and they’ll remain that way forever. The Greek physician Hippocrates believed that people’s personalities were governed by the amounts of phlegm, blood, black bile and yellow bile that flowed through their bodies.

Modern science, of course, has long since discarded notions of bile and humors. And now, it appears the idea that our personalities are immutable is also not quite true. Researchers have found that adults can change the five traits that make up personality — extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness and conscientiousness — within just a few months. Much as in Dr. Steffel’s case, the traits are connected, so changing one might lead to changes in another.

Put more succinctly: “Remember that your personality is more like a sand dune than a stone.”

The Art of Traditional Japanese Printmaking

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

There are many steps in making traditional Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e), but this short video focuses on the printing process as demonstrated by master printmaker Keiji Shinohara. This is a delight to watch — Shinohara’s deliberate precision is impressive and inspiring.

My absolute favorite part of this video is at the 3:40 mark when he precisely and firmly grasps the pressing tool (called a baren), swipes it on his face three times, and then uses it to press the paper into the inked block. This pre-press face maneuver is repeated several times but otherwise goes unremarked upon in the video — one of the commenters offers this explanation: “The oils from his face help grip the paper, making a firm and even press.” (via open culture)

Banksy Graffitied Walls And Wasn’t Sorry

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2021

the cover of Banksy Graffitied Walls And Wasn't Sorry

Banksy Graffitied Walls And Wasn’t Sorry is biography of street artist Banksy written for children by Fausto Gilberti. Gilberti has also written kid’s books about other artists: Jackson Pollock Splashed Paint and Wasn’t Sorry, Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry, and Yves Klein Painted Everything Blue and Wasn’t Sorry.

The Typography of Watches

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2021

closeup view of the typography on a watch face

closeup view of the typography on a watch face

closeup view of the typography on a watch face

From Our Favourite Uses of Typography in Watches:

Good typography should be almost unnoticeable. Blending seamlessly into the rest of the design, it should tell you everything you need to know, without you being aware of it. Despite the many restrictions that are applied to dial layout, the creativity that can be seen in typography across horology is quite staggering. To put it simply, typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible and appealing when displayed. As the dial is the main point of interaction with a watch, it is arguably one of its most important parts, and certainly one that can produce the most emotion. This is why typeface can play such a vital, yet subtle, role in how we experience and feel about a certain piece.

(via the fox is black)

100 Visions of Motherhood

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

a woman raises a smiling child in the air

a woman carrying two children

a very fashionable woman poses next to an equally fashionable girl

Curated by The Luupe, this is “a collection of photographs and words celebrating the complexities of motherhood”. And somehow even 100 photographs don’t adequately capture the vast experience of motherhood around the world. Photos above by Dee Williams, Brittany Marcoux, Diane Allford (via storythings)

The Final Border Humanity Will Never Cross

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2021

This video focuses on one of my favorite astrophysics facts: 94% of the observable universe is permanently unreachable by humans. (Unless we discover faster-than-light travel, but that’s fantasy at this point.)

This expansion means that there is a cosmological horizon around us. Everything beyond it, is traveling faster, relative to us, than the speed of light. So everything that passes the horizon, is irretrievably out of reach forever and we will never be able to interact with it again. In a sense it’s like a black hole’s event horizon, but all around us. 94% of the galaxies we can see today have already passed it and are lost to us forever.

“Since you started watching this video, around 22 million stars have moved out of our reach forever.” And future generations, billions of years from now, won’t even be able to see any other galaxies or detect cosmic background radiation, making knowledge about the Big Bang impossible.

Leslie Odom Jr. Teaches You Philly Slang

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

Singer and actor Leslie Odom Jr., who grew up in Philadelphia and who you may know from Hamilton and who is wearing an amazing purple sweater in this video, breaks down some Philly slang for us, including jawn, Mummers, MAC machine, old head, water ice, and outta pocket.

Bo Burnham Welcomes You to the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2021

I have been hearing nothing but good things, and lots of them, about comedian Bo Burnham’s new show on Netflix called Inside. Burnham did the entire thing by himself in his house during the pandemic — writing, music, cinematography, editing, etc. In this clip from the show, Burnham performs a song called “Welcome to the Internet”. (via waxy)

The Rules of Dozens of Sports Explained in Short Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

On his YouTube channel, Ninh Ly has created almost 100 short videos that clearly and simply explain the rules of all kinds of different sports. Basketball? Explained. Cricket? Explained. (I feel like I finally understand cricket!) Snooker? Explained. Jai Alai? Explained. Curling? Explained. Quidditch?! Explained! The rules of some sports are more complex than others and the explanations move along at a pretty good clip, so decreasing the playback speed (click on the gear at the bottom of the video player) is advised.

This will be essential when the next Olympic Games roll around and everyone gets intensely interested in the rules of handball, fencing, and badminton for two weeks. (via open culture)

Was the Microwave Invented to Thaw Out Frozen Hamsters?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2021

We all know that the microwave oven was invented by Raytheon’s Percy Spencer in 1945. What this video presupposes is, maybe it was invented to thaw out frozen hamsters? And somehow James Lovelock, who formulated the Gaia hypothesis, is involved? (via @fourfoldway)

Governor Abbott, Will You Save My Life?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2021

Quintin Jones murdered his aunt in 1999 and is scheduled to be executed on May 19, 2021. He admits his guilt, his family has forgiven him, and in this video, he shares his thoughts about personal growth & death and asks Texas governor Greg Abbott to spare his life.

During his 21 years on death row, Quin has been the epitome of a prison success story. He entered at an unimaginable low, as lost as a soul can be. And through prayer, sobriety, reconciliation with his family, and longstanding correspondence with pen pals, he has found a way to lead a meaningful life, and even to enhance the lives of others. The victim’s family — who is also Quin’s family — has forgiven him.

Emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically, human beings are ships of Theseus — we are not the same people at 30 as we were at 20 or will be at 40. The death penalty is immoral, full stop. The sooner our system of retributive justice is replaced with restorative justice, the healthier and safer our communities and society will be.

Germany Came to Terms with Its Nazi Past. Why Can’t America Do the Same with Slavery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

For the Washington Post, Michele Norris wonders what it will take for the US to finally and fully acknowledge its history of slavery.

America experienced 246 years of slavery before it was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That was followed by decades of legal segregation and oppression under Jim Crow, followed by a period of willful blindness and denial. A tourist from a foreign land might well conclude that the Confederacy had actually won the Civil War, based on the number of monuments, buildings and boulevards still named for heroes of its defeated army. The real truth of our shared history was a casualty of that war and, like any wound left untended, the results can be catastrophic.

A full accounting of slavery is one of terror and trauma, and for decades the natural inclination was to ask, why would anyone want to claim that history? But at a moment when the United States is dangerously divided, when we are having bitter and overdue conversations about policing, inequality and voting rights, when marauders fueled by white-nationalist rhetoric can overwhelm the Capitol, proudly waving the Confederate battle flag, the more important question is this: What happens if we don’t?

She uses Germany’s remembrance and examination of Nazism and the Holocaust as an example of a country that has properly faced up to its terrible past in order to move fully forward.

Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, almost obsessively, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget.”

I visited Germany back in 2018 and its efforts to engage with past horrors were quite noticeable and stood in stark contrast to American activity along similar lines.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

As Norris convincingly argues, “it is long past time to face where truth can take us”.

Velox, the Amphibious Robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

A Brooklyn company called Pliant Energy Systems has developed a prototype of an amphibious robot that can swim, skate, slither, and crawl through water and over all different kinds of terrain. The secret is an undulating propulsion system that can modified on the fly to adapt to different conditions.

Velox can use several modes of locomotion found in the animal kingdom using just one pair of “fins”. These fins are best described as four-dimensional objects with a hyperbolic geometry that allows the robot to swim like a ray, crawl like a millipede, jet like a squid, and slide like a snake.

A craft equipped with this system has unprecedented freedom to travel through a range of environments in a single mission. As an underwater vehicle, the robot’s ability to instantly reverse direction and do quick turns make it ideal for task such as coral reef inspection or dragon fish hunting where a craft must rapidly maneuver to look around and between objects.

(thx, dunstan)

An Engineer Explains All the Different Kinds of Rollercoasters

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2021

In this video, rollercoaster engineer Korey Kiepert talks about all the different types of rollercoasters that you’ll see at an amusement park, including wooden, terrain, launched, hyper, out-and-back, and wild mouse coasters.

So, when we design a roller coaster, we’re trying to take something that’s very much driven by the same codes that would be used to design a building. And we’re working with those to create something that gives you the illusion that it’s daring and adventurous but, at the same time, it’s all very controlled.

See also Every Bridge For Every Situation, Explained by an Engineer. (via the kid should see this)

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 8 people in Indianapolis, Indiana yesterday, which comes on the heels of several other mass shootings in 2021. While these are outrageous and horrifying events, they aren’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

We Know What You Did During Lockdown

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

After watching this short film on how much data private companies are able to gather about you (data that we willingly give them in some cases), you might be forgiven for thinking that, never mind some far flung future, we are living in a full-on dystopia right now. The set design, the acting, the positioning of the tables, the see-through table tops, the laptop vs. notebook…this was really well done. When the interrogator got up from his desk, I viscerally felt the invasion of privacy.

The Circles of Friendship

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2021

This chart caught my eye yesterday:

chart showing the number of friendships possible by relationship type (best friends, close friends, etc.)

It’s from Robin Dunbar’s recent book, Friends: Understanding the Power of Our Most Important Relationships. You might recall the author’s name from his concept of Dunbar’s number:1 that on average people can maintain about 150 friendships with others, a limit that is determined by human brain size and function. The chart is a more detailed version of the concept: it shows, roughly, the number of people we can have meaningful relationships with at various levels of intimacy. Dunbar explains in this Atlantic interview:

The innermost layer of 1.5 is [the most intimate]; clearly that has to do with your romantic relationships. The next layer of five is your shoulders-to-cry-on friendships. They are the ones who will drop everything to support us when our world falls apart. The 15 layer includes the previous five, and your core social partners. They are our main social companions, so they provide the context for having fun times. They also provide the main circle for exchange of child care. We trust them enough to leave our children with them. The next layer up, at 50, is your big-weekend-barbecue people. And the 150 layer is your weddings and funerals group who would come to your once-in-a-lifetime event.

The layers come about primarily because the time we have for social interaction is not infinite. You have to decide how to invest that time, bearing in mind that the strength of relationships is directly correlated with how much time and effort we give them.

The interview is interesting throughout — there’s evidence that introverts have fewer connections in each layer than extroverts, your numbers go down as you get older when relationship become harder to replace, “falling in love will cost you two friendships”, and how much time is necessary to form a friendship:

It takes about 200 hours of investment in the space of a few months to move a stranger into being a good friend. This fits with our data, which suggests that close friends are very expensive in terms of time investment to maintain. I think the figures are a guideline rather than precise. It just means friendships require work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship over the many months of the pandemic — about how my friend circles changed during that time and what friendship actually means to me. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that my close friends saved my life during the past year — there were 3 or 4 people that I leaned heavily on (and they on me) for advice, sanity checks, shoulder-crying, going on long walks, emotional support, grieving, getting unfunked, relationship advice, and generally feeling like a normal & whole person in the midst of an unprecedentedly awful situation. We talked and cried and raged about anything and everything. We went deep and got intimate. If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic for me, it’s the development and deepening of these incredible friendships.

  1. Fun note on this… When I searched to find the Wikipedia page for Dunbar’s number, Google helpfully(?) gave me the phone number for a local physical therapist named Dunbar.

What Happened with the Whole European Super League Thing?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Erling Haaland

Last week, twelve of the biggest, richest, and best European soccer teams announced they were going to form a new midweek competition called The European Super League. The reaction was swift: fans revolted, soccer governing bodies threatened to kick these teams out of other competitions (with immediate effect, including the Champions League which is presently in the semifinal stage), large-scale condemnation from the press, teams started to back out, and 48 hours after the announcement, the league was all but dead.

So what the hell happened? There have been lots of takes and I obviously haven’t read them all, but here are two I found especially valuable in wrapping my head about the Super League failure and, more importantly, what it can tell us about how power, wealth, community, and attention interact 21 years into this rapidly aging century. First up, Alex Shephard writing for The New Republic: The Existential Crisis That Led to the European Super League Fiasco.

What all of these cultural dinosaurs are confronting, though rarely head on, is the fact that there is no monoculture anymore. They may occupy tremendous cultural space — and a team like Real Madrid is rivaled only by other European soccer teams in the sports world — but it is not and never will be what it was before. The mass appeal these teams enjoyed until fairly recently is not coming back, and it’s not just the fault of Fortnite or FIFA. There are simply too many competitors — and, after all, you can watch the best bits on social media anyways.

And then Ryan O’Hanlon interviewed economist Mark Blyth for his newsletter: How the Spectacular, Comical Failure of the Super League Explains the World.

O’Hanlon: In addition to the various corporate pressures, it really does seem like the fan reaction made a material difference. Do you find that heartening at all?

Blyth: I think it’s heartening in the following sense. It’s emblematic of broader shifts that are going on right now. Basically we’re all struggling to find a capitalism 4.0, and we’re all fed up with capitalism 3.0, and this is a huge example of the limits of capitalism 3.0. This “I own it. It’s my right. I’ll do what I want with it”. Except, no you won’t because there’s such a thing as a public conception of ownership of these assets, even if you formally own them. There are limits to how far you can push this market logic on the social institutions without provoking a reaction. Karl Polanyi, the Hungarian sociologist and historian from the 1940s, wrote that the big fuck-ups of the 19th century and 20th century were attempts to shove markets down people’s throats to the point where they revolted.

In a sense, what you’re seeing here is a classic Polanyian reaction. So I think it’s heartening in that it shows there are limits to how much you can commodify these social goods even if they are nominally private assets. It’s heartening in another way in that they’re gonna have to have a reckoning with these balance sheets. If you’re not Sheikh Mansour and you’re not Roman Abramovich, how are you going to fund Paul Pogba’s ridiculous salary? And it’s just not clear that you are going to, so there may need to be a restructuring, which would be great because the model is there. Look at how the Germans do this. They invest heavily in talent. They invest heavily in youth, they buy, but they buy judiciously. They don’t pay ludicrous salaries. And the funds own 51 percent of the companies. It’s a perfect model, right? Because they’ve got cooperative ownership between the people who are the kind of social owners. And then you’ve got the titular owners who do the investment, and there’s a balance of those interests.

Let me know if there are other Super League pieces out there that I should read — I’ll add them to this post. (Photo above of Erling Haaland because he is a goofy beast and one of the 12 Super League teams is going to pay an absolutely obscene amount of money for him in a few months.)

How to Take the Perfect Nap

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2021

As someone who is mostly unable to nap, I’ve always felt a twinge of envy towards those who can shut their eyes, drift off for 20 minutes, and awake refreshed & raring to go. Maybe I’ll have better luck after watching this TED-Ed lesson by sleep researcher Sara Mednick (author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.), which explains when and how long you should nap for optimal results. (via open culture)

How Does America’s Response to Climate Change Look From Abroad?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

For this video, the NY Times talked to several people from around the world (Britain, Zimbabwe, Norway, India, etc.) about what they think about how the United States is approaching climate change and other environmental challenges. Spoiler alert: there is a lot of incredulity about how shitty America is doing in this area. And that matters because what happens here affects everyone around the world.

See also What Does U.S. Health Care Look Like Abroad? and What Do U.S. Elections Look Like Abroad?

The Worst NBA Player Is Way Better Than You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

Last month, a video of a high school kid challenging former NBA player Brian Scalabrine to a game of 1-on-1 went viral. Scalabrine, of course, won easily: 11-0. As this Sports Illustrated article about the video put it: “Even NBA benchwarmers are ungodly basketball players.”

The video is a reminder of just how much better pro athletes are than regular Joes. Scalabrine was not a good NBA player. Considering that he played 11 years in the league, it might not be fair to call him a bad NBA player, but he was certainly one of the least productive players in the league during his career. But even almost a decade removed from his last NBA season, he’s still capable of schooling (almost) any person who hasn’t played at least college basketball. Don’t be fooled by the red hair and the fact that he tucked his hoodie into his sweatpants.

Sopan Deb interviewed Scalabrine and a couple of other NBA & WNBA players to find out if these challenges are common, why they happen, and why they almost always end the same way.

“Being a white N.B.A. player from the suburbs, I have to level up,” said Scalabrine, who is from Long Beach, Calif., and was often referred to as the White Mamba, a play on Kobe Bryant’s Black Mamba nickname.

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

Scalabrine told another challenger years ago: “I’m closer to LeBron than you are to me”.

Gene Demby’s thread about the Scalabrine video is full of stories and videos of other former elite athletes easily besting all comers. This is a favorite:

I had a friend in high school who was at a camp & David Robinson showed up. My friend was feeling cocky after dunking on the Admiral twice. The Admiral told him he’d give him $1000 if he did it again. My friend walked away with a story about how he dunked on David Robinson twice.

A few years ago, WNBA player Devereaux Peters wrote about how these types of challenges are different when you’re a woman.

I’m a tall woman at 6-foot-2, and almost everywhere I go, people notice me. The first question is: Do you play basketball? When they find out I’m a professional player, some are just impressed and want to know more about the life of a pro athlete. Most of the men I talk to, though, ask me to play one-on-one.

If you’ve ever had that impulse, let me stop you here. I’m not going to play you one-on-one. I’m never going to play you one-on-one. I have been playing basketball my entire life, and for just as long I have been challenged by men who think they are better than me. I had to prove my skill in middle school against the boys who thought girls couldn’t play basketball. I had to prove my skill in high school when the guys’ egos were hurt because the girls basketball team was more successful and more popular than theirs. I had to prove it in college when grown men started challenging me to one-on-one games because there was no way this college woman was better than they were. Time and time again, I have trounced men — far too many to count. Now I have nothing to prove.

My kids and I have been discussing a related question recently: in which sport would it be easiest for a normal person with some athletic skills to score against or produce some kind of positive result against a professional player. For example: get a hit off of a major league pitcher, beat Steph Curry player 1-on-1, win a set (or even a point) against Serena, score a penalty shot in hockey, or score a rushing touchdown (or even survive the day) from the 5-yard line against an NFL team. That last one may not even be the right scenario, but you get the idea. The best answer we’ve come up with so far is scoring a penalty kick against a goalkeeper — I think if you gave a person who played soccer in high school 12-15 years ago 10 chances against a world-class keeper, I suspect they would score a few. Or perhaps that’s too easy of a challenge — after all, most penalty kicks succeed. Maybe the appropriate challenge would be to stop penalty shots from someone like Messi or Alex Morgan, surely a nearly impossible task.

Update: In 2018, BuzzFeed invited some normal folks to try scoring from the spot against MLS goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Admittedly Miller is not one of the best keepers in the world and who knows how hard he was really trying, but a few shots did get past him.

In Europe, where you’re much more likely to find folks on the street who grew up living & breathing soccer and can put the ball in the corners with some pace, I suspect the success rate would be higher, even against the likes of ter Stegen, Alisson, or Navas.

Shadows in the Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2021

Always a treat to watch a new time lapse storm video from Mike Olbinski. It’s in 8K as well, so if you have the bandwidth and the screen resolution, this is going to look extra good. You can see more of Olbinski’s breathtaking videos here as well as plenty more cloud content. kottke.org: home of fine cloud products. (via colossal)

Amy Sherald: The Great American Fact

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

Amy Sherald painting

Amy Sherald painting

Painter Amy Sherald is displaying new work at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in LA through June 6: The Great American Fact. One thing I really notice in her art now, after watching the excellent documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light, is how at least one person in her paintings is looking directly at the viewer. Here’s Sherald talking about that in the documentary:

The eyes tell you what’s in the soul and, for me, the people that I paint, they’re no longer themselves in the painting. They are these archetypes that know they are present. These aren’t passive portraits — they’re maybe subversively confrontational, if you will — but it’s definitely a response to a lot of images I saw growing up where our gaze was always averted. Or thinking about the fact that you couldn’t look at a white person in the eye. So, this is my way of nodding my head at that narrative and empowering the image in a way. I like the paintings hung a little lower for that reason so when the viewer walks up, it’s a different conversation. You’re not looking up at it — it’s almost looking directly at you and I think that creates a different kind of sensation.

She also says of her subjects: “It’s important for me that they’re just Black people being Black” and I think that really comes through in this new work. (via colossal)

David Bowie as Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton as David Bowie

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

photo of David Bowie and Tilda Swinton with their faces digitally swapped

It’s photoshopped (the original is here) but still. Mercy.

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 Finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

The Bird Photographer of the Year competition has released a selection of images from their shortlist of finalists for the 2021 contest. I selected three of my favorites above: Zdeněk Jakl’s duckling, Fahad Alenezi’s fox & eagle, and David White’s swallow. You can see more entries at Colossal, BBC, and Science Focus.

Winners of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

2021 World Press Photo contest winner

2021 World Press Photo contest winner

The winners of the 2021 World Press Photo contests have been announced. Photos above (top to bottom) by Nadia Buzhan (of a woman waiting for her husband to be released from a detention center) and Luis Tato (of efforts to fight a locust invasion in Kenya). (via in focus)

Sports From Above

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2021

aerial view of a ballet dancer

aerial view of gymnasts

aerial view of synchronized swimmers

aerial view of a tennis player

Photographer Brad Walls (Insta) makes aerial photos of people playing sports, providing a new angle on the actions of divers, gymnasts, tennis players, synchronized swimmers, and figure skaters. (via petapixel)

Ted Lasso Believes in You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Catherynne M. Valente has written an absolutely fantastic review of Ted Lasso that gets to the heart of why so many people love the show so much. I will quote from it at length:

Ted Lasso is like if Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Coach Taylor, Leslie Knope, and David Tennant’s Doctor all got together and had a big strange baby. It is a completely formulaic premise that turns around and refuses to follow the formula. It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.

Do you know how fucking hard that is to pull off?

It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind. In a show for adults. For cynical adults who are having a thoroughly rubbish time of it — and that was everyone in 2020. It’s nearly impossible, honestly. Even Parks and Rec constantly shit down Jerry’s neck. The Good Place was full of demons to balance out the philosophy with that kind of humor.

Ted Lasso is just a guy. It’s not the afterlife, it’s not in space, it’s not in a medieval morality play, it’s not even something as high-concept as the fantasy life of JD in Scrubs. He’s just a guy, who has problems, not insignificant ones, but also maybe the secret of life, moving through a traditional comedy plot — in fact, the actual plot of Major League — and handling it like comedy characters never do because it’s easier to do a madcap plot when everyone is being stupid and not communicating and running on the rails of their particular archetypal tropes.

How they managed to make radical empathy funny is just miraculous. And also:

I actually think Ted’s progressive jokes are rather desperately important, as far as TV is ever desperately important. There’s this crushing, dominant idea that real comedy, edgy comedy, modern, cutting-edge comedy is by nature regressive, offensive, in your face, dirty, snickering about women and minorities and LGBTQ folk because if those pious SJWs don’t like it, it must be hysterical. So to speak. That if you’re not offending people, you’re not doing it right. And the intersection of comedy and sports is where this attitude is likely to be EXTREMELY firmly rooted and taken for granted.

But here it’s just…gone. There are zero jokes made at the expense of…really anyone except Jamie and Roy, who both need to experience not being bowed down to in order to become who they need to be. Ted doesn’t even think before deftly acknowledging that Rebecca is funny, but on the off chance she actually has a trans parent, he’s excited and interested to discuss her experience with her without judgment. And yet nothing is lost in terms of fun or laughs, because in every scene, Ted lets everyone be in on the joke with him instead of being a target.

Art can be like this. Art can be like this and nothing is lost. There’s still plenty of edge to go around.

If I were you, I would read the whole thing, especially if you liked this previous post: Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

West Texas Thunderstorm

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

a colorful West Texas storm cloud

Photo by Laura Rowe. Wow. Evocative of Milton Glaser’s Bob Dylan poster. (via @mathowie)

The Fashionable Mark Bryan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2021

Mark Bryan, wearing a dress and heels

Mark Bryan, wearing a dress and heels

Mark Bryan, wearing a dress and heels

For the past year, robotic engineer Mark Bryan has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by cataloguing his daily outfits that include skirts and heels. From a profile in Interview:

By all accounts, Mark Bryan is an average, run-of-the-mill guy. The 61-year-old grandfather of four has been happily married to his wife for the past 11 years. In 2010, he moved from Texas to a town near Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, where he now works in robotics engineering and coaches a local football team. He loves cycling and fast cars and beautiful women, and he tries to exercise at least twice a week. Oh, and he looks great in a pencil skirt and a pair of six-inch stilettos.

He looks fantastic. If I have legs like that when I’m 61, I might wear skirts and heels all the time too. Here’s the caption from his first Instagram post in Feb 2020:

I am just a normal happily married straight guy that loves Porsche’s, beautiful women, and likes to incorporate a skirt and heels into his daily wardrobe. Clothes and shoes should have no gender.

‘Meet Some Of The Last Papyrus Makers In Egypt Keeping A 5,000-Year-Old Craft Alive’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

In the village of Al-Qaramous, Egypt, local businesses and artisans are carrying on a papyrus-making process that dates back 5000 years, updated with some modern techniques to speed up the process and improve the product.

A Blinking Map of the World’s Lighthouses

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

a small section of a world lighthouse map showing the location of lighthouses in the Mediterranean Sea

Courtesy of Geodienst, this is a map of the world’s lighthouses. Where the data is available (and you can see it’s quite sparse for some areas of the world), the map shows the location, color, range, and flashing frequency/pattern of each lighthouse. The color and flashing pattern of a lighthouse is called the characteristic. Each lighthouse has a different characteristic so that mariners can tell them apart and to indicate different water areas. (via strange maps)

11 Reasons to Keep Wearing a Mask After You’re Vaccinated and the Pandemic is “Over”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2021

two people wearing face masks

  1. You 100% do not want to get Covid-19.
  2. You are immunocompromised. Millions of people have immune conditions that make contracting Covid-19 much more dangerous for them.
  3. You’re traumatized from “the mental and emotional toll of the last year”.
  4. Because you need to be around people you suspect may not be vaccinated or taking Covid-19 seriously (e.g. as part of your job).
  5. You’re not feeling well and want to make sure to protect others around you.
  6. Because you want to signal to others that you are being safe and thinking of the health and wellness of those around you.
  7. You live in a household with unvaccinated people (kids, for example) and want to make sure to protect them.
  8. Because your personal risk tolerance is lower than other people’s.
  9. You need some time to feel comfortable enough taking your mask off around others after more than a year of that very behavior being dangerous.
  10. Because you want to.
  11. But mostly because it is NONE OF ANYONE’S GODDAMN CONCERN if you choose to keep wearing a mask. Fuck off! Mind your own business!

Why Do Wes Anderson Movies Look Like That?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

Love it or hate it, we all know what Wes Anderson movies look like by now — the vibrant color palette, use of symmetry, lateral tracking shots, slow motion, etc. etc. In this video, Thomas Flight explores why Anderson uses these stylistic elements to tell affective and entertaining stories.

But what is at the core of those individual stylistic decisions? Why does Anderson choose those things? Why do all those things seem to form a very specific unified whole? And what function, if any, do they serve in telling the kinds of stories Wes wants to tell?

The sources for the video are listed in the description; one I particularly enjoyed was David Bordwell writing about planimetric composition. (via open culture)

The New US Climate Normals

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

New Climate Normals

Every 10 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updates its definition of what it defines as “normal” weather.

As soon as the 2021 New Year’s celebrations were over, the calls and questions started coming in from weather watchers: When will NOAA release the new U.S. Climate Normals? The Normals are 30-year averages of key climate observations made at weather stations and corrected for bad or missing values and station changes over time. From the daily weather report to seasonal forecasts, the Normals are the basis for judging how temperature, rainfall, and other climate conditions compare to what’s normal for a given location in today’s climate.

They’re set to release the updated 1991-2020 Normals in early May and, crucially, these new normal climate conditions are not adjusted for climate change.

The last update of the Normals took place in 2011, when the baseline shifted from 1971-2000 to 1981-2010. Among the highlights of the rollout was the creation of a map showing how climate-related planting zones across the contiguous United States had shifted northward in latitude and upward in elevation. It was a clear signal that normal overnight low temperatures across the country were warmer than they used to be.

The planting zone maps emphasized a key point about the Normals and climate change: the once-per-decade update means these products gradually come to reflect the “new normal” of climate change caused by global warming. What’s normal today is often very different than what was normal 50 or 100 years ago. This gradual adjustment is the point: the purpose of the Normals is to provide context on what climate is like today, not how it’s changing over time.

This is literally shifting baselines in action.

So what are shifting baselines? Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience.

And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward. By the end, the fishers are operating in a radically degraded ecosystem, but it does not seem that way to them, because their baselines were set at an already low level.

Over time, the fish goes extinct — an enormous, tragic loss — but no fisher experiences the full transition from abundance to desolation. No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about shifting baselines recently — specifically in terms of how quickly people in the US got used to thousands of people dying from Covid every day and became unwilling to take precautions or change behaviors that were deemed essential just months earlier when many fewer people were dying. See also mass shootings.

Journey to the Microcosmos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2021

Thanks to a recommendation from Wander Lines, I just found the Journey to the Microcosmos channel on YouTube. The imagery is fantastic and the narration informative — my absolute favorite combo. The video above, called Microbes Don’t Actually Look Like Anything, is about how light and microscopy work together to produce images of these tiny things that humans can see and make use of. It reminds me of how many of the brilliantly colorful astronomy images we see of far-flung galaxies and nebulae don’t look anything like that in actuality.

Some of the other popular videos on the channel are Tardigrades: Chubby, Misunderstood, & Not Immortal, Diatoms: Tiny Factories You Can See From Space, and How Microscopic Hunters Get Their Lunch.

‘The Last Time a Vaccine Saved America’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

In 1955, epidemiologist Thomas Francis Jr. announced the results of a field trial of the polio vaccine that Jonas Salk had developed. America erupted in joy.

Now a phalanx of bulky television cameras focussed on Francis as he prepared to report on the efficacy of the vaccine. He had good news to share: to cheers from the audience, he explained that the Salk vaccine was sixty to seventy per cent effective against the most prevalent strain of poliovirus, and ninety per cent effective against the other, less common strains. All this had been shown through what was, at that time, the largest vaccine trial ever conducted.

All afternoon and evening, church bells rang out across America. People flooded into the streets, kissing and embracing; parents hugged their kids with joy and relief. Salk became an instant national hero, turning down the offer of a ticker-tape parade in New York City; President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited him to the White House and, later, asked Congress to award him a Congressional Gold Medal. That night, from the kitchen of a colleague’s house, Salk — whose name was being touted in newspapers, magazines, radio reports, and television news broadcasts around the world — gave his first network-TV interview to Edward R. Murrow, whose show “See It Now” had exposed the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy a year earlier. Blushing in admiration, Murrow asked the doctor, “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” “The people,” Salk said, nobly. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

In the days that followed, schoolchildren were instructed by their teachers to write thank-you notes to Salk. Universities lined up to offer him honorary degrees. Millions of American doctors, nurses, and parents got down to the serious business of vaccinating their children against polio, using a shot they’d been anticipating for seventeen years.

But the polio vaccine rollout had its challenges, including a manufacturing negligence & oversight failure that resulted in tens of thousands of polio cases in otherwise healthy children.

In May, the polio vaccination drive was temporarily suspended. Leonard Scheele, the U.S. Surgeon General, inspected the facilities of all six vaccine companies and fired the government officials he considered to be culpable; the director of the N.I.H. and the Secretary of Health voluntarily resigned. New safety procedures were developed, including an improved means of filtering the viral mix just before the formaldehyde was added. Better tests were developed to detect live virus, and stricter record-keeping was instituted. The incident could have created a vaccine-hesitancy crisis. But, incredibly, the American public readily accepted the medical establishment’s explanation for the failure, and its pledges to right the situation. The nation’s trust in medical progress and in Dr. Salk was so resolute that, when it was announced that a new, safe polio vaccine was available, parents pushed their children back to the head of the line. It’s hard to imagine such an outcome today.

Juggling from Above

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2021

Juggling, from the usual angle, looks like a very hectic endeavor — balls and clubs and hands flying everywhere. But if you get an overhead view, as in this video from Taylor Glenn, you can see that often there’s very little movement in two of the three dimensions. The mastery of these small movements combined with the sweeping up-and-down motions creates a compelling illusion for ground-based viewers. The power of a different perspective. (via the kid should see this)

The Continuing Trauma of the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

Because of the remarkable Covid-19 vaccines, the pandemic is easing in America. In many parts of the country, things are returning to some semblance of normal, whatever that means. But many will continue to struggle and come to terms with what happened for awhile longer. Ed Yong, What Happens When Americans Can Finally Exhale:

But there is another crucial difference between May 2020 and May 2021: People have now lived through 14 months of pandemic life. Millions have endured a year of grief, anxiety, isolation, and rolling trauma. Some will recover uneventfully, but for others, the quiet moments after adrenaline fades and normalcy resumes may be unexpectedly punishing. When they finally get a chance to exhale, their breaths may emerge as sighs. “People put their heads down and do what they have to do, but suddenly, when there’s an opening, all these feelings come up,” Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute, told me. Lipsky has spent decades helping people navigate the consequences of natural disasters, mass shootings, and other crises. “As hard as the initial trauma is,” she said, “it’s the aftermath that destroys people.”

And it wasn’t just the pandemic:

Not everyone will feel this way. Perhaps most Americans won’t. In past work, Silver, the UC Irvine psychologist, found that even communities that go through extreme traumas, such as years of daily rocket fire, can show low levels of PTSD. Three factors seem to protect them: confidence in authorities, a sense of belonging, and community solidarity. In the U.S., the pandemic eroded all three. It reduced trust in institutions, separated people from their loved ones, and widened political divisions. It was something of a self-reinforcing disaster, exacerbating the conditions that make recovery harder.

Also, let’s not forget: “Globally, the pandemic is set to kill more people in 2021 than in 2020.”

The Sparks Brothers

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2021

Edgar Wright has directed a documentary on a band called Sparks, which was formed by brothers Ron & Russell Mael in 1967 and the trailer (above) hails as “your favorite band’s favorite band”.

How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright’s debut documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS, which features commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favorite band.

The Sparks Brothers will be in theaters on June 18.

Building Black: Ekow Nimako’s All-Black Lego Sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

For his series called Building Black, Ekow Nimako uses only black Lego pieces to build fantastical and futuristic sculptures based on West African masks, folklore, and medieval kingdoms. From Colossal:

Running through each of these artworks is a fluid understanding of time and space that blurs the distinction between generations, locations, and histories in order to imagine a new reality. “We are all living proof of our ancestors, all their joy, love, knowledge, and pain. They live in our DNA,” the Ghanaian-Canadian artist says. “Aesthetically, I enjoy taking elements from bygone eras and creating futuristic landscapes, particularly of African utopias to imagine a liberated existence for us all.”

That blurred temporality that foregrounds his sculptures and installations parallels his own trajectory, as well. “My art practice developed when I was four years old, as I constantly told myself I want to do this (play with LEGO) forever, and sometimes it feels as though my future self communicated with my past self, astrally perhaps, to ensure this very specific destiny manifested,” he says, noting that the plastic blocks have remained a fixture in both his personal and professional life since becoming a father.

Vice did a short video feature on Nimako and his work:

(via colossal)

Simone Biles, Mesmerizing in Slow Motion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2021

Gymnast Simone Biles won her 7th US Gymnastics Championship this past weekend, further cementing her status as the world’s best gymnast and one of the most dominant athletes of all time in any sport. In her floor exercise routine on the first day of the competition, Biles absolutely nailed a triple double — that’s three twists while doing two backflips. Timothy Burke took the footage and slowed it down so that we can see exactly what’s going on in the air. And, Jesus, I was NOT prepared for what I saw. The two handsprings that set up the final move are beautiful slowed down, leisurely even. But then Biles launches herself impossibly high into the air — like absurdly and spectacularly high — and starts twisting and flipping at a speed that seems fast even for slow motion. And the landing — it’s like she was standing there all along, waiting for the rest of her spirit to join her. Watching the routine at regular speed makes you appreciate the move even more.

In reaction to this move, NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy, who has seen his fair share of elite athletes doing amazing things over the years, exclaimed: “How is that even humanly possible?” As if to preemptively answer him and everyone else watching, the sparkly leotard that Biles wore during her routine had a picture of a goat sown into it because she is the GOAT.

Simone Biles wearing a leotard with a picture of a goat sown into it

See also Who Could Jump Higher on a Trampoline, LeBron James or Simone Biles? (via the kid should see this)

Update: Physicist David Young analyzes Biles’ triple-double:

Assuming her rotation rates around each axis remain constant, to get three full flips in would require an extra 0.65 seconds, which requires a launch speed of 22.6 miles per hour, all other things being equal. This is not possible, even if we assume her max launch speed is 18 miles per hour, which is apparently her top sprinting speed.

However, if she could do three full flips, she would also be able to get in one-and-a-half more twists at her current rotation rate! What would this even be called?! What might be more likely would be to try to gain an extra half twist so that she would take off facing left and land facing right, still only completing two full flips.

(thx, donny)

Bart Simpson feat. Daft Punk & Giorgio Moroder

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

Part of what makes this so good & funny is the obvious level of care put into making it, right down to the smallest details. The audio distortion? Perfect lip syncing? The Doppler effect?! It’s just a meme, you didn’t have to go so hard! (via the xoxo slack)

The Pain of the Commute

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2021

Luke O’Neil talked to dozens of people who were able to work from home during the pandemic about not missing the commute part of working in an office. A few of the responses:

No one’s stopping anyone who works from home from going out and riding in circles on the subway for 30 minutes before they go back to their desk.

I save roughly $100 a month now. I have time in the morning to take my dog for a long walk every day. I have time in the evening to cook dinner. Commuting is psychological torture and my physical and mental health is significantly better without it.

I love to drive 30 minutes to stare at a different computer

I can’t even calculate the savings in gas, wear on my car, etc. But I can tell you that with nearly two hours back in each of my days, plus the extra 40 minutes or so of making myself presentable to be in close proximity to others, I have been able to reinvest that time in myself. I have been eating better, I have time for the gym, I have time to give my dogs the exercise they need. I know this year has been mentally taxing on so many, but I’ve found these changes work so much better for me.

A Supercut of Everything Brad Pitt Eats & Drinks in Ocean’s Eleven

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven more than once, you probably noticed that Brad Pitt’s character Rusty Ryan is eating or drinking something in almost every scene he’s in. cinemATTIC made a supercut of all of those food and beverage moments from the movie. And if you’re wondering why Rusty was always eating, according to Rolling Stone:

Pitt figured that since the Ocean gang was on such a tight schedule, his character would have to grab fast-food whenever he could. The constant snacking ended up showing Rusty’s unflappability.

Someday someone will release an action or heist movie with a relevant & entertaining 15-minute sequence where the protagonists have to find a bathroom. During a recent Avengers: Endgame viewing, my son asked, “Doesn’t anyone ever have to go to the bathroom in these movies?” Then we talked about how they hardly ever eat either, aside from the occasional shawarma. But now that I’m thinking about it, there’s quite a bit of eating and drinking in Endgame: Black Widow’s peanut butter sandwich, Hulk-delivered tacos, the diner scene, Thor’s drinking, and many more.1 Ocean’s reference or nah? (via @Remember_Sarah)

Update: These folks did a Snackalong of eating everything that Rusty ate while watching the movie.

  1. FYI, Endgame hits different when you watch it in the (hopefully) late stages of a devastating pandemic. Oof.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Filmmaker Morgan Neville (who did the Fred Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) has directed a documentary about Anthony Bourdain called Roadrunner that opens in theaters on July 16.

It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind… Chef, writer, adventurer, provocateur: Anthony Bourdain lived his life unabashedly. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), this unflinching look at Bourdain reverberates with his presence, in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him.

This trailer makes me want to buy a movie ticket — and about 10 plane tickets. So looking forward to this. I need more unabashed living in my life.

Desus and Mero Go to the Met Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

After months of lockdown and closure due to the pandemic, Desus Nice & The Kid Mero go to the Met Museum in NYC to take in some art. Would 100% take a tour of any art museum with these two astute cultural commentators.

Anywhere Can Happen

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

Sure, there’s the big budget superhero & action films, but the falling cost and increasing availability of really good motion graphics tools also enables a sort of everyday surrealism that’s on display in this short video by Fernando Livschitz. (via colossal)

America’s Drinking Problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2021

This piece on alcohol and the human fixation on it is interesting throughout — and/because it includes the sentence: “For an illustration of what followed, I direct you to the film Dazed and Confused.”

But even presuming that this story of natural selection is right, it doesn’t explain why, 10 million years later, I like wine so much. “It should puzzle us more than it does,” Edward Slingerland writes in his wide-ranging and provocative new book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, “that one of the greatest foci of human ingenuity and concentrated effort over the past millennia has been the problem of how to get drunk.” The damage done by alcohol is profound: impaired cognition and motor skills, belligerence, injury, and vulnerability to all sorts of predation in the short run; damaged livers and brains, dysfunction, addiction, and early death as years of heavy drinking pile up. As the importance of alcohol as a caloric stopgap diminished, why didn’t evolution eventually lead us away from drinking-say, by favoring genotypes associated with hating alcohol’s taste? That it didn’t suggests that alcohol’s harms were, over the long haul, outweighed by some serious advantages.

Versions of this idea have recently bubbled up at academic conferences and in scholarly journals and anthologies (largely to the credit of the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar). Drunk helpfully synthesizes the literature, then underlines its most radical implication: Humans aren’t merely built to get buzzed-getting buzzed helped humans build civilization. Slingerland is not unmindful of alcohol’s dark side, and his exploration of when and why its harms outweigh its benefits will unsettle some American drinkers. Still, he describes the book as “a holistic defense of alcohol.” And he announces, early on, that “it might actually be good for us to tie one on now and then.”

But hard liquor and solitary drinking changed the game.

Southern Europe’s healthy drinking culture is hardly news, but its attributes are striking enough to bear revisiting: Despite widespread consumption of alcohol, Italy has some of the lowest rates of alcoholism in the world. Its residents drink mostly wine and beer, and almost exclusively over meals with other people. When liquor is consumed, it’s usually in small quantities, either right before or after a meal. Alcohol is seen as a food, not a drug. Drinking to get drunk is discouraged, as is drinking alone. The way Italians drink today may not be quite the way premodern people drank, but it likewise accentuates alcohol’s benefits and helps limit its harms. It is also, Slingerland told me, about as far as you can get from the way many people drink in the United States.

The 70s Trucker Country Music Fad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2021

In the 60s & 70s, country music songs about truck drivers and CB radios enjoyed popularity on the airwaves and pop charts.

“Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck. You got a copy on me, Pigpen? C’mon.” This jumble of words is the first line of the song “Convoy,” a #1 country hit from 1976 that tells an action-packed story from the perspective of a truck driver. Songwriters Chip Davis and Bill Fries filled “Convoy” with banter and lingo based on communications they heard between trucker drivers on CB radio during the 1973 oil crisis.

The epic orchestration and colorful and quotable lyrics made “Convoy” an unlikely hit — but the song actually tapped into a long history of country music that put the spotlight on the solitary lives of long-haul truck drivers. In the video above, Estelle Caswell breaks down the golden era of trucker country with country and folk music scholars Travis Stimeling and Nate Gibson.

This style of country music is perhaps my least favorite genre of music, but the history is interesting and I’m committed to bring you every new episode of Earworm.

Where Do Company Names Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

The Wikipedia page listing company name etymologies is a good place to spend some time.

7-Eleven - convenience stores; renamed from “Tote’m” in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 am until 11:00 pm.

Samsung - meaning “three stars” in Korean

Coca-Cola - derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the ‘K’ of kola to ‘C’ to make the name look better.

Pepsi - named from the digestive enzyme pepsin

Jordache - from the first names of the Nakash brothers who founded the company: Joe, Ralph, David (Ralph’s first son), Avi, plus che, after the second syllable of “Nakash”

GEICO - from Government Employees Insurance Company

Häagen-Dazs - name was invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus of the Bronx “to convey an aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship”. The name has no meaning.

Hotmail - founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service he tried all kinds of names ending in ‘mail’ and finally settled for Hotmail as it included the letters “HTML” - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing.

Mozilla Foundation - from the name of the web browser that preceded Netscape Navigator. When Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla) by Jamie Zawinski.

(via sam potts)

Make Everything Important

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

I enjoyed this interview with actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Q: Is there a life philosophy that you feel has carried you through your career?

A: My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important.

“All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” —Yoda, Empire Strikes Back. See also “I’ve Never Had a Goal”. (via @tadfriend)

The Tight Fit

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

This man’s garage is 1.55 meters wide and his car is 1.49 meters wide, leaving a clearance of just 3cm on each side. Watch him effortlessly get the car into his sponge-lined garage and then, in an exquisite geometrical dance of angles and tolerances, exit the car into his house. Someone should make this into a video game — I want to see the speedruns!

Update: Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place makes the perfect soundtrack to this guy parking his car.

(via @johnpavlus)

Friendship

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

From poet David Whyte’s book Consolations (ebook), a short essay on friendship.

Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

I heard Whyte read this essay on the Making Sense podcast a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since — it’s a wonderful read but it’s even better to hear a practiced poet recite it aloud. If you’re interested in hearing more, Consolations, which is composed of similarly short essays on topics like anger, beauty, shyness, and gratitude, is available as an audiobook read by Whyte. (thx, megan)