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Totally Under Control

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2020

In secrecy over the past several months, filmmaker Alex Gibney has been making a documentary film about the US government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic called Totally Under Control. He and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger interviewed “countless scientists, medical professionals, and government officials on the inside” to produce the film.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, directing with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, interrogates this question and its devastating implications in Totally Under Control. With damning testimony from public health officials and hard investigative reporting, Gibney exposes a system-wide collapse caused by a profound dereliction of Presidential leadership.

Gibney previously directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear, and Zero Days (all excellent documentaries). The film comes out in theaters on October 13 and on Hulu on October 20.

Vaccines May Help End the Pandemic. But Realistically, It’s Not Even Halftime Yet.

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2020

We’re all so goddamned tired of this fucking pandemic and so people are looking at the development and distribution of a vaccine as the thing that’s going to get us out of this (and quick). But realistically, that’s not what’s going to happen. Carl Zimmer wrote about some of the challenges with Covid-19 vaccines.

The first vaccines may provide only moderate protection, low enough to make it prudent to keep wearing a mask. By next spring or summer, there may be several of these so-so vaccines, without a clear sense of how to choose from among them. Because of this array of options, makers of a superior vaccine in early stages of development may struggle to finish clinical testing. And some vaccines may be abruptly withdrawn from the market because they turn out not to be safe.

“It has not yet dawned on hardly anybody the amount of complexity and chaos and confusion that will happen in a few short months,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, the director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic.

See also Dr. Fauci’s belief that our best case scenario for returning to something close to normal life in the US is late 2021.

On Twitter, Zimmer also commented on something that I hadn’t really thought about: that all of these vaccines in development in the US are only for adults:

I wrote last month that no trials for kids had started. Update: still no US trials for kids. The goal of having shots ready for them by fall 2021 may be slipping further away.

From Zimmer’s article on the development of a kids’ vaccine:

Only if researchers discovered no serious side effects would they start testing them in children, often beginning with teenagers, then working their way down to younger ages. Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults. Their biology is different in ways that may affect the way vaccines work. Because their airways are smaller, for example, they can be vulnerable to low levels of inflammation that might be harmless to an adult.

These trials allow vaccine developers to adjust the dose to achieve the best immune protection with the lowest risk of side effects. The doses that adults and children need are sometimes different — children get smaller doses of hepatitis B vaccines, for example, but bigger doses for pertussis.

You probably hate reading these kinds of articles; I know I do. But facing up to the reality of our situation, particularly here in the US where our political leadership has utterly failed in protecting us from this virus, is much better than burying our heads in the sand — that’s just not mentally healthy.

Clear Language on Slavery

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2020

I’ve posted before about how the language we’ve been conditioned to use about slavery and the Civil War obscures reality. From historian Michael Todd Landis:

Likewise, scholar Edward Baptist (Cornell) has provided new terms with which to speak about slavery. In his 2014 book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books), he rejects “plantations” (a term pregnant with false memory and romantic myths) in favor of “labor camps”; instead of “slave-owners” (which seems to legitimate and rationalize the ownership of human beings), he uses “enslavers.” Small changes with big implications. These far more accurate and appropriate terms serve his argument well, as he re-examines the role of unfree labor in the rise of the United States as an economic powerhouse and its place in the global economy. In order to tear down old myths, he eschews the old language.

@absurdistwords had a great thread on this recently, urging us to “stop obscuring the horror with detached, antiquated, euphemistic terms”.

Clear Language on Slavery:

Slaves = Hostages
Slave Owners = Human Traffickers
Slave Catchers = Police
Plantations = Death Camps
Mistresses = Rape Victims
Discipline = Torture/Murder
Overseers = Torturers
Trading = Kidnapping
Profit = Theft
Middle Passage = Genocide

For example:

“The prominent slave owner never publicly recognized the offspring of he and one of his slave romances but allowed him to serve in the house”

is really

“The rich human trafficker raped his female hostage and then held their son hostage as well at the death camp he owned”

And from an earlier thread:

When you replace

“Owned slaves” with

“Was an active and willing participant in a vast conspiracy to kidnap children from their families in order to force them into industrial and sexual servitude”

It becomes harder to write slave owning off as just a blot on one’s record.

For instance:

George Washington was our first President and was an active and willing participant in a vast conspiracy to kidnap children from their families in order to force them into industrial and sexual servitude

They continue:

America treats slavery like an oopsie rather than a centuries-long campaign of nightmarish, brutal terrorism.

America sees the systemic and sadistic destruction of Black families as an etiquette violation.

Which is why it will excuse slave owners so readily.

Back to the Future: Reimagined

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2020

Back to the Future is 35 years old this year and to celebrate, Universal has cut together eight fan-made animations of action from the film into an abridged version of the beloved movie.

See also a deepfake version of BTTF with Tom Holland as Marty and Robert Downey Jr. as Doc.

The Delightful New “Universe in a Nutshell” App

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

The breadth of scale of measurable objects in the universe — our distance from the most distant objects we can observe (billions of light years away) to particles measured in something called a yoctometer (1×10-24 meters) — is staggering to think about. That’s where the Universe in a Nutshell app comes in. Developed by Kurzgesagt & Wait But Why (both kottke.org favorites), you can use the app to quickly and easily zoom in and out through objects at all the scales of the universe, like quarks, DNA, cells, earthworms, Europe, Jupiter, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Crab Nebula, galaxies, and galaxy superclusters.

Universe In A Nutshell

Universe In A Nutshell

You can tap on any object you encounter to learn more about it, like an interactive Powers of Ten. I spent 20 minutes just now playing around and it’s really fun. You can download the app for $2.99 from the App Store or on Google Play.

To mark the release, Kurzgesagt made a video comparing the sizes of stars:

And Wait But Why’s Tim Urban wrote a post about the scales of objects: The Big and the Small.

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2020

In this experimental feature-length film that played at Cannes in 2012, director György Pálfi constructed a love story using clips from 450 films that span nearly the entire history of cinema. I was afraid this would be gimmicky, but it’s so well constructed and so smoothly adheres to the tropes of romantic movies that I got totally sucked in. It reminded me a lot of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, a 24-hour film made from hundreds (thousands?) of other movies and TV shows where the on-screen action is synced to the viewer’s time of day. (via waxy)

The Covid-19 Crystal Ball: Estimating Future Deaths from Today’s Reported Cases

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2020

On Friday, November 13, 170,792 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the United States. About 3000 of those people will die from their disease on Dec 6 — one day of Covid deaths equal to the number of people who died on 9/11. It’s already baked in, it’s already happened. Here’s how we know.

The case fatality rate (or ratio) for a disease is the number of confirmed deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases. For Covid-19 in the United States, the overall case fatality rate (CFR) is 2.3%. That is, since the beginning of the pandemic, 2.3% of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 in the US have died. In India, it’s 1.5%, Germany is at 1.6%, Iran 5.5%, and in Mexico it’s a terrifying 9.8%.

A recent analysis by infectious disease researcher Trevor Bedford tells us two things related to the CFR.

1. Reported deaths from Covid-19 lag behind reported cases by 22 days. Some deaths are reported sooner and some later, but in general it’s a 22-day lag.1

2. The overall CFR in the US is 2.3% but if you use the 22-day lag to calculate what Bedford calls “a lag-adjusted case fatality rate”, it’s a pretty steady average of 1.8% since August. Here’s a graph:

Lagged CFR

As you can see, in the early days of the pandemic, 4-6% of the cases ended in death and now that’s down to ~1.8%. That’s good news! The less good news is that the current case rate is high and rising quickly. Because of the lag in reported deaths, the rise in cases might not seem that alarming to some, even though those deaths will eventually happen. What Bedford’s analysis provides is a quick way to estimate the number of deaths that will occur in the future based on the number of cases today: just multiply the number of a day’s cases by 1.8% and you get an estimated number of people who will die 22 days later.2

For instance, as I said above, 170,792 cases were reported on Nov 13 — 1.8% is 3074 deaths to be reported on December 6. Cases have been over 100,000 per day for 11 days now: here are the estimated deaths from that time period:

Date Cases Est. deaths (on date)
2020-11-15145,6702622  (2020-12-08)
2020-11-14163,4732943  (2020-12-07)
2020-11-13170,7923074  (2020-12-06)
2020-11-12150,5262709  (2020-12-05)
2020-11-11144,4992601  (2020-12-04)
2020-11-10130,9892358  (2020-12-03)
2020-11-09118,7082137  (2020-12-02)
2020-11-08110,8381995  (2020-12-01)
2020-11-07129,1912325  (2020-11-30)
2020-11-06125,2522255  (2020-11-29)
2020-11-05116,1532091  (2020-11-28)
2020-11-04103,0671855  (2020-11-27)
Totals1,609,15828,965


Starting the day after Thanksgiving, a day traditionally called Black Friday, the 1.6 million positive cases reported in the past 12 days will result in 2-3000 deaths per day from then into the first week of December. Statistically speaking, these deaths have already occurred — as Bedford says, they are “baked in”. Assuming the lagged CFR stays at ~1.8% (it could increase due to an overtaxed medical system) and if the number of cases keeps rising, the daily death toll would get even worse. As daily case totals are reported, you can just do the math yourself:

number of cases × 0.018

200,000 cases in a day would be ~3600 deaths. 300,000 daily cases, a number that would have been inconceivable to imagine in May but is now within the realm of possibility, would result in 5400 deaths in a single day. Vaccines are coming, there is hope on the horizon. But make no mistake: this is an absolute unmitigated catastrophe for the United States.

Update: Over at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal and Whet Moser took a closer look at Bedford’s model, aided by Ryan Tibshirani’s analysis.

Tibshirani’s first finding was that the lag time between states was quite variable-and that the median lag time was 16 days, a lot shorter than the mean. Looking state by state, Tibshirani concluded, it seemed difficult to land on an exact number of days as the “right” lag “with any amount of confidence,” he told us. Because cases are rising quickly, a shorter lag time would mean a larger denominator of cases for recent days — and a lower current case-fatality rate, something like 1.4 percent. This could mean fewer overall people are dying.

But this approach does not change the most important prediction. The country will still cross the threshold of 2,000 deaths a day, and even more quickly than Bedford originally predicted. Cases were significantly higher 16 days ago than 22 days ago, so a shorter lag time means that those higher case numbers show up in the deaths data sooner. Even with a lower case-fatality rate, deaths climb quickly. Estimating this way, the country would hit an average of 2,000 deaths a day on November 30.

The other major finding in Tibshirani’s analysis is that the individual assumptions and parameters in a Bedford-style model don’t matter too much. You can swap in different CFRs and lag-time parameters, and the outputs are more consistent than you might expect. They are all bad news. And, looking retrospectively, Tibshirani found that a reasonable, Bedford-style lagged-CFR model would have generated more accurate national-death-count predictions than the CDC’s ensemble model since July.

  1. Courtesy of Ed Yong, the lag between cases and hospitalizations is about 11 days. So the full ICUs and packed ERs were hearing about now are going to get so much worse in the next two weeks. And just think about the potential situation a month from now if cases keep rising at the rate they are now for two more weeks…

  2. Just to stress again: this is only an estimate. The real reported deaths from a single day’s reported cases will be spread out over several days or weeks. And case reporting is much lower on Sundays and Mondays than on other days (fewer reports on weekends). Bedford accounted for this in his analysis by using 7-day averages.

Who Knew You Could Play Music with a Boxing Speed Bag?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Alan Kahn, aka the Speed Bag King and author of The Speed Bag Bible, can seemingly do anything with a boxing speed bag…like make music. Just watch this 45-second video of him getting warmed up on the bag and then performing a tiny virtuoso concert for a small group of amazed onlookers.

See also Kahn punch drumming the William Tell Overture. Again, this starts off slow but wait for the complex stuff to kick in over the course of the video. (via @austinkleon)

The Real Trolley Problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2020

Real Trolley Problem

The trolley problem is an ethical thought experiment that’s fun to think and argue about but is often not that applicable to real-world situations (and has been memed to death in recent years). However, I think this one has a certain resonance to with current events.

“David Lynch Being a Madman for a Relentless 8 Minutes and 30 Seconds”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

The title of this video is “David Lynch being a madman for a relentless 8 minutes and 30 seconds” is perfect and requires no further information or contextualization. (thx, david (no relation))

It’s Reflective Fjord Season

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2020

This image-stabilized video of Tomasz Furmanek kayaking through the fjords of western Norway is almost obscenely beautiful. I want to go to there. (Really dislike the music though…this would have been so much better just with the ambient noise of the boat and paddle slipping through the water. Like this video.)

Today Marks a Year of Covid-19

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2020

According to an unpublicized report by the Chinese government, the first documented case of Covid-19 was a 55-year-old person living in Hubei province on November 17, 2019. That makes today the first anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. From that person (and possibly earlier or concurrent cases), the disease slowly and silently spread until it was determined to be due to a novel coronavirus.

They found that following the Nov. 17 case, about one to five new cases were reported every day and by Dec. 15, the total infections reached 27. Daily cases seem to have increased after that, with the case count reaching 60 by Dec. 20, the SCMP reported.

On Dec. 27, Dr. Zhang Jixian, head of the respiratory department at Hubei Provincial Hospital, reported to health officials in China that a novel coronavirus was causing the disease; by that day, it had infected more than 180 individuals. (Doctors may not have been aware of all of those cases at the time, but only identified those cases after going back over the records, the Morning Post reported.)

No one had any idea how much the world was going to change that day. What an awful, humbling, terrifying, ghoulish year.

America’s Nuclear Sponge

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2020

The “nuclear sponge” is a colorfully named Cold War-era concept whereby stationing a massive collection of ICBMs in sparsely populated areas of the United States would serve to “soak up” a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, drawing fire away from populated targets like NYC, Chicago, and Seattle.

Before the development of nuclear-armed submarines that can hide their locations at sea, ICBMs were the crux of American nuclear strategy. Today, however, their only purpose is to draw fire away from other targets (like New York and San Francisco) in the (suicidal and thus highly unlikely) event of a first strike by Russia. The Air Force does not plan to launch the missiles in a war, but to have them draw a nuclear attack to the Upper Midwest.

We’re not making this up — that’s what former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress.

Here’s what the nuclear sponge looks like, courtesy of the National Park Service (areas in black have been decommissioned):

Nuclear Sponge

The amazing/crazy thing is that the sponge is not only still an active strategy, but the Pentagon is planning on replacing the sponge arsenal with new missiles at a cost of $95.8 billion.

Lessons from the Ancient World about the Political Collapse and Recovery of Self-Governing Communities

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2020

This is a fascinating post by historian Bret Devereaux, who specializes in ancient history (esp. Rome), that looks at ancient self-governing democracies and republics in the Greek and Roman world and describes how they fell into crisis and, crucially, how they were able to recover to avoid losing that self-governance.

But in that large sample size, we also get a sense of what solutions succeed and what solutions fail to hold together a self-governing community in these sorts of pressures. Beset by repeated political crises from 494 to 287 (known as the Struggle of the Orders), the Roman Republic repeatedly survived and grew stronger through compromise and by constructive, inclusive redefinition of the republic to include a broader range of people (not merely the patrician elite, but also the plebeian elite). In no small part, that success seems to have been motivated by the avowed need of elite patricians for the support of the plebeian commons in order to campaign, since the plebeians made up most of the army.

In stark contrast, the effort by conservative (in the general sense, not in the American sense) elements of the Roman senate to ‘hold the line’ and permit no compromise on questions of land reform and citizenship in the Late Republic led quite directly to the outbreak of civil war in 91 (with the Italian allies) and in 88 (between Romans) and consequently to the collapse of the Republic. Initially, the influence and raw power of the elite was sufficient to squash efforts at reform (including the murder of some prominent reformers), but in the long run the discontent those crackdowns created laid the fertile ground for the rise of demagogic military leaders to supplant the Republic entirely, culminating in first Caesar and then Octavian doing just that. In an effort to compromise on nothing, the Roman elite lost everything.

Devereaux then draws a parallel to the 2020 election:

In short, Joe Biden is running on a platform of compromise and a constructive, inclusive redefinition of the polity which explicitly welcomes past opponents to join him at the table. To me, reasoning from historical example, that seems like the correct answer to the current moment.

On the other hand, we have a different candidate (and current President) who is running on a promise to ‘win’ the stasis by main force, to dominate and to win, indeed, until he (or we) get tired of winning, to escalate the tensions to the final victory of the faction. This is exactly the approach that I think a sober reading of historical examples warns us is likely doomed to failure, regardless of what one thinks of the underlying policy aims (which might well have been achieved without the rhetoric and practice of escalation). I cannot help but think that, as happened in the last decades of the Roman Republic, rewarding this sort of rhetoric and behavior will produce more of it from both parties and put our republic on a dangerous path.

FKA twigs on Artemisia Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy is a painting made in the 1620s by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting was presumed lost until it was rediscovered in a private collection in France and sold at auction for more than $1 million in 2014.

As part of season 2 of Google Arts & Culture’s Art Zoom project (previously), British singer/songwriter FKA twigs gives her personal interpretation of the painting in the video above.

Scholars assumed it was painted in the 1620s, when Artemisia Gentileschi left Florence and moved back to Rome. She had separated from her husband and become an independent woman, the head of her own household, a rarity at that time.

When making my own album, entitled “Magdalene,” it was a time of great healing for me. When I was researching about Mary Magdalene and I was looking at a lot of paintings of her, she seemed so poised and so together. But the irony is in finishing my music, I found a deep wildness, a looseness, an acceptance, a release. And that’s exactly what I’m experiencing in this painting.

I found this incredibly soothing to watch and listen to…almost ASMR-like. And as usual, you can zoom around the painting yourself; this is not even halfway zoomed in…at full zoom you can see individual brushstrokes and cracks in the painting.

Artemisia Gentileschi's 17th-century painting of Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

Update: FKA twigs gives tours of two additional Gentileschi paintings: Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Judith Beheading Holofernes.

(via @norabz)

Fantastic 3-D Animation of How Medieval Bridges Were Built

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2020

The animation above shows how bridges were built in medieval times, well before the advent of backhoes, cranes, and bulldozers powered by steam and gasoline. I could explain what you’re about to see, but you should just watch the video.

The bridge constructed in the video is the real-life Charles Bridge in Prague, which was built over several decades in the 14th and 15th centuries. From Amusing Planet:

Construction of the Charles Bridge started in 1357, under the auspices of King Charles IV, but it was not completed until the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge has 16 arches and 15 pillars, each shielded by ice guards. It’s 512 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide. The balustrade is decorated with 30 statues and statuaries depicting various saints and patron saints, although these were erected much later, between 1683 and 1714. To preserve these statues, they were replaced with replicas during the 1960s. The originals are at Prague’s National Museum.

Until the middle of the 19th century, the Charles Bridge was the only crossing on river Vltava, which made the bridge an important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas.

When I was younger, I remember watching (and loving) a PBS series on the building techniques used to construct the pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge, the Colosseum, and Incan buildings. That the internet is now overflowing with engaging history videos like this bridge video is truly wonderful.

Huge Butterfly Murals

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2020

Building-sized mural of butterflies

Building-sized mural of butterflies

Building-sized mural of butterflies

I love these building-sized murals featuring butterflies by French street artist Mantra (Instagram). From a Colossal post about the artist:

In a conversation with Colossal, Mantra said he’s harbored a lifelong fascination with entomology that stems from spending hours in French gardens and bucolic areas as a kid. “As a child, I was interested, curious, and focused on the small life forms in those places,” he says. His current practice hearkens back to those carefree hours and connects with an adolescent desire to become a naturalist. “My approach is as a scientist,” the artist says, noting that education about environmental care and issues is part of the goal.

Although Mantra considers all insects and natural life beautiful and crucial to maintaining biodiversity, the focus on butterflies revolves around his artistic ambitions because the vivid creatures allow him to experiment with color, shape, and texture. Each specimen is rendered freehand before the artist adds detail and the illusory shadows that make them appear three-dimensional. By painting various Lepidoptera species again and again, the artist is “repeating a mantra,” a detail of his practice that informs the moniker he works under.

Lovely Illustrations of Plants and Wildlife in the English Countryside

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2020

Jo Brown's illustrations from a Devon wood

Jo Brown's illustrations from a Devon wood

Jo Brown's illustrations from a Devon wood

Just enjoying Jo Brown’s illustrations today. Using a Moleskine notebook, she sketches plants and wildlife near her home in Devon, England. A replica of that nature journal called Secrets of a Devon Wood has been recently published in the UK (US edition is out soon — Amazon is the only place I could find it). You can check out more of her artwork on Instagram. (via colossal)

The United States of Letterpress

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2020

To celebrate the release of their latest limited edition memo books, Field Notes made a short documentary about The United States of Letterpress, featuring several letterpress practitioners from around the country.

I ran a pedal-powered letterpress machine for a few minutes several years ago and that huge machine whizzing away right in front of me was both magical (it stamps the ink right into the paper and it’s in your hands 2 seconds later) and terrifying (the massive flywheel could have ripped my arm clean off without slowing down). Danger and enchantment, what else do you need really?

The Game of the Year: the 3D Virtual Walkthrough of 8800 Blue Lick Road

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2020

This week’s fun internet plaything has been the 3D virtual house tour of this three-bedroom house at 8800 Blue Lick Rd. in Louisville, KY. If you take the tour, you’ll quickly see why: from the standpoint of physics, the house doesn’t seem to make any sense. You think you’re in the basement and then head up some stairs to find yourself…still in the basement? It’s all very Inception crossed with the Winchester Mystery House with a side of How Buildings Learn.

So of course people turned it into a game: find the oddly located bathtub. They even started speedrunning it.

Resident internet meme sleuth Andy Baio called the owner of the house and got the scoop on the puzzling residence.

A larger question remained: what’s the deal with this place? Whoever owned it, they were too organized to be hoarders. The home appeared to double as the office and warehouse for an internet reseller business, but who sells a house crammed floor-to-ceiling with retail goods?

Internet sleuths unearthed several news articles from 2014, outlining how police discovered thousands of stolen items being sold online during a raid at the address, the result of a four-year investigation resulting in criminal charges for four family members living and working at the house.

But it didn’t add up. If they were convicted for organized crime, why was there still so much inventory in the house, with products released as recently as last year? Why is it still packed full while they’re trying to sell it? And what’s with the bathtub!?

I had questions, so I picked up the phone.

He also explains why the bathtub is no longer viewable in the 3D walkthrough.

The Winners of the 2020 Drone Photo Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2020

Drone Photos 2020

Drone Photos 2020

Drone Photos 2020

Lots of good aerial photography in the 2020 Drone Photo Awards in several categories (abstract, urban, people, nature, wildlife). Photos above by Paul Hoelen, Azim Khan Ronnie, and Paul McKenzie.

A New Online Archive of 374 Treaties Between Indigenous Peoples and the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2020

Sample pages of a treaty between indigenous peoples and the United States

Thanks to an anonymous donation, the US National Archives has digitized and put online their collection of 374 treaties between indigenous peoples and the United States (and its predecessor colonies). You can also explore maps and see which tribes are associated with which treaties. I am sure the meaning of the words on these pages is different depending on who you ask but being able access them freely is a benefit to everyone. (via @CharlesCMann)

How Masks Protect Us from Covid-19

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2020

How an N95 mask filters aerosols and droplets

The NY Times has a fantastic visualization on how face masks help keep us safe from catching Covid-19 by taking readers on a journey through a mask to see how they block aerosols and droplets.

A lot of the pushback around the efficacy of masks from non-scientists focuses on the size of the droplets and aerosols (super tiny) compared to the gaps between the fibers in the masks (relatively large). Intuitively, it seems like masks don’t stand a chance of stopping anything. But as this visualization shows, multiple layers of fibers do the job quite well. Masks don’t work like sieves, which will let every particle smaller than the holes through the mesh. Instead, imagine shooting a BB gun into a thick stand of trees — no one tree stands a good chance of getting hit by the BB but the forest will stop it eventually.

N95, KN95, and masks made from polypropylene have an extra weapon against particles: the fibers carry an electrostatic charge that attracts particles to trap them. Picture our BB flying through a forest of magnetic trees — it’s got a much better chance of being captured that way.

The visualization also touches on the importance of making sure your mask fits properly. The best masks fit tightly around the edges and include a space around your nose and nostrils. Masks with unfiltered valves should not be used — you’re just breathing virus out into the air. It’s been 8-9 months now that we’ve been dealing with the pandemic and there will be many more months of wearing masks. If your mask is fits poorly around your nose, your straps aren’t tight enough, you need to fuss with it after putting it on, have a mask with a valve, or (god forbid) are still just wearing a bandana, please please do yourself and others a favor and upgrade your mask. High-quality, well-made masks are much easier to find now than 6-8 months ago.1 If you can’t afford a proper mask, email me and I’ll buy you one. Masks are one of the most successful low-tech interventions we can do to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and the better our masks, the more effective they will be.

  1. I am hesitant in recommending particular masks because I am not a doctor or scientist, but you might want to look at Airpop’s masks. I also recently bought some Vida KN95s (but have not worn one yet). My daily mask is this Allett mask that combines a cotton layer with a non-woven polypropylene layer (I wouldn’t wear this on a plane for 4 hours but for 10 minutes in the grocery store in Vermont where community transmission levels are low, it’s fine). It’s more comfortable than a straight KN95 and fits my face perfectly — no “bunching up” gap between the ear loops or around the nose. Disposable surgical masks are very easy to find — they are better than wearing a bandana, valved mask, or even a thin cotton mask.

Dr. Fauci: Earliest We’ll Be “Back to Normal” Is the End of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2020

A few weeks ago during the Q&A session after his lecture for MIT’s online biology class about the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci shared his expert opinion on when things might return to “normal” in the US. Here was my paraphrased tweet about it:

With a very effective vaccine ready in Nov/Dec, distributed widely, and if lots of people take it (i.e. the best case scenario), the earliest we could return to “normal life” in the world is the end of 2021.

At the New Yorker Festival earlier in the week, Michael Specter asked him about a return to normalcy and Fauci elaborated a bit more on this timeline (starts ~10:22 in the video).

When are we gonna get back to something that closely resembles, or is in fact, normal as we knew it?

We’re already making doses, tens and hundreds of millions of doses to be ready, first at least, in graded numbers at the end of the year in November/December. By the time we get to April, we likely will have doses to be able to vaccinate anybody who needs to be vaccinated. But logistically by the time you get everybody vaccinated, it likely will not be until the third or even the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2021.

So let’s say we get a 70% effective vaccine, which I hope we will get, but only 60% of the people get vaccinated. There are going to be a lot of vulnerable people out there, which means that the vaccine will greatly help us to pull back a bit on the restrictions that we have now to maintain good public health, but it’s not going to eliminate things like mask wearing and avoiding crowds and things like that.

So I think we can approach normality, but I don’t think we’re going to be back to normal until the end of 2021. We may do better than that; I hope so but I don’t think so.

Leaving aside what “normal” might mean and who it actually applies to,1 there’s some good news and bad news in there. The good news is, they’re already producing doses of the vaccine to be ready if and when the phase 3 trials are successful. Ramping up production before the trials conclude isn’t usually done because it’s a waste of money if the trials fail, but these vaccines are so critical to saving lives that they’re spending that money to save time. That’s great news.

The bad news is that we’re not even halfway through the pandemic in the best case scenario. We’re going to be wearing masks in public for at least another year (and probably longer than that). Large gatherings of people (especially indoors) will continue to be problematic — you know: movie theaters, concerts, clubs, bars, restaurants, schools, and churches — and folks staying within small pods of trusted folks will likely be the safest course of action.

A change in national leadership in both the executive branch and Senate could change the outlook for the better. We could get some normalcy back even without a vaccine through measures like a national mask mandate/distribution, a real national testing & tracing effort, taking aerosol transmission seriously, and easing the economic pressure to “open back up” prematurely. We’re never going to do as well as Vietnam or Taiwan, but I’d settle for Greece or Norway.

Update: In an interview posted yesterday, Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Rivers gives her best guess at a return to normalcy:

Topol: When do you think we’ll see pre-COVID life restored?

Rivers: I wish I knew. I’m thinking toward the end of 2021. It’s really hard to say with any certainty. We should all be mentally prepared to have quite a bit ahead of us.

  1. It’s America. If we know anything by now about this country, it’s that access to healthcare and economic opportunity is going to apply unevenly to the people who live here. For instance, it’s likely that Black & brown communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, may face difficulty in getting access to vaccines compared to wealthier, predominantly white communities.

Visualizing How Covid-19 Spreads Indoors

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2020

Visualization of how Covid-19 spreads in a bar via aerosols

From El Pais, this is an excellent visualization of how Covid-19 spreads indoors via aerosols and what can be done to limit that spread. They go through simulations of three different indoor scenarios that are based on actual events — in a home with friends, in a bar at 50% capacity, and in a classroom — and see what happens when differing levels of precautions are applied: masks, ventilation, and limiting exposure time.

Six people get together in a private home, one of whom is infected. Some 31% of coronavirus outbreaks recorded in Spain are caused by this kind of gathering, mainly between family and friends.

Irrespective of whether safe distances are maintained, if the six people spend four hours together talking loudly, without wearing a face mask in a room with no ventilation, five will become infected, according to the scientific model explained in the methodology.

If face masks are worn, four people are at risk of infection. Masks alone will not prevent infection if the exposure is prolonged.

The risk of infection drops to below one when the group uses face masks, shortens the length of the gathering by half and ventilates the space used.

In all three scenarios, note that distancing is largely irrelevant when people gather indoors for longer periods in poorly ventilated areas. From the school example:

In real outbreaks, it has been noted that any of the students could become infected irrespective of their proximity to the teacher as the aerosols are distributed randomly around the unventilated room.

The only thing that’s disappointing about this piece is that it does not stress enough that finding alternatives to indoor activities with lots of people is the much safer course of action than just cracking a window or masking up. Safety step #1 is still being smart about non-essential activities — masks and ventilation are not magically going to protect you during risky activities. Educating our children is important and difficult (though not impossible) to do outside in many places, so yeah, let’s mask up and ventilate those classrooms. But your indoor birthday party with 10 friends or Thanksgiving dinner with the cousins and grandparents? Or dining out in a room full of strangers at a restaurant? Even with masks and ventilation, it’s not a great idea. Scale it down, move it to Zoom/FT, hold it outdoors (distanced, masked), or just skip it.

Jackson Bird’s Transition Timeline

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2020

Jackson Bird, who kottke.org readers may know as the host of Kottke Ride Home, recently made a video showing his lifelong transition from the assignment he was given at birth to “the man I am today”.

Instead of photos, I used thirty years worth of home videos to share my story. I called this my Five Years On Testosterone video, but it could more accurately be called Thirty Years In Transition. This is three decades worth of what it looks like to be a transgender person. From childhood tomboy days to confusion and questioning to denial and finally coming out, starting hormones, changing my name, getting top surgery, and all of the moments in between. Not all of our stories are the same, far from it, but this is one story — my story. The story of how I became the man I am today.

What a great video and fantastic storytelling. Undertaking a journey in public like this cannot be easy; thanks for sharing this with us, Jackson. If you’d like to know more about his story, check out his memoir: Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place.

Map Portraits by Ed Fairburn

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2020

Ed Fairburn

Ed Fairburn

Artist Ed Fairburn draws portraits of people and objects on top of maps and, well, it is just my exact cup of tea. His newest stuff is available on Instagram. I’ve featured his work twice before and it won’t be the last. (via colossal)

The Science Is In: Wear. A. Mask!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2020

Back in June, in a post called Jesus Christ, Just Wear a Face Mask!, I presented a bunch of evidence and arguments for wearing face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Even then it was pretty clear that masks were working. In piece published by Nature yesterday, Lynne Peeples summarizes what the data and science currently says about the effectiveness of wearing face masks. Here is her one-sentence summary:

To be clear, the science supports using masks, with recent studies suggesting that they could save lives in different ways: research shows that they cut down the chances of both transmitting and catching the coronavirus, and some studies hint that masks might reduce the severity of infection if people do contract the disease.

And importantly, even ardently pro-mask scientists agree that masks should be worn in conjunction with taking other precautions: limiting large gatherings, maintaining distance, limiting the time you spend indoors with others, etc.

The NYPL’s Essential Reads on Feminism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2020

NYPL's Books on Feminism

To mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that made some women eligible to vote in the United States, the New York Public Library is sharing its picks for Essential Reads on Feminism.

The list includes first-hand accounts and histories of the suffrage movement that chronicle both its successes and its limitations — particularly for women of color — as well as contemporary essays on how feminism intersects with race, class, education, and LGBTQ+ activism. From personal memoirs to historical overviews, featuring writing by seminal figures and lesser-known pioneers, the list traces the development of the feminist ideas that have powered the campaign for gender equality, in all its complexity and boldness. While far from complete, the list nevertheless provides a starting point for learning about the history of feminism and for exploring the issues and challenges that many women face today.

They’ve split the list into three main sections according to reader age: kids, teens, and adults. I’m going to highlight a few of the selections from each list here.

For kids:

Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne. “Black Girl Magic is a journey from girlhood to womanhood and an invitation to readers to find magic in themselves.”

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo. My daughter tells me about the women she’s read about in this book all the time.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers. “We are all here for a purpose. We are more than enough. We just need to believe it.”

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai. “Nobel Peace Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author Malala Yousafzai’s first picture book, inspired by her own childhood.”

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood. “Fresh, accessible, and inspiring, Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women — each paired with a noteworthy female artist — to the next generation of activists, trail-blazers, and rabble-rousers.”

For teens:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. “Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself.”

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall. “Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is an indispensable resource for people of all genders interested in the fight for a more liberated future.”

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Filled with compassionate guidance and advice, it gets right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century, and starts a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.”

Modern Herstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History by Blair Imani. “An inspiring and radical celebration of 70 women, girls, and gender nonbinary people who have changed — and are still changing — the world, from the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall riots through Black Lives Matter and beyond.”

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill. “Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of ‘normalcy’ to embody one’s true self.”

For adults:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. “A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.”

Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Tinsley. “In Beyoncé in Formation, Tinsley now takes her rich observations beyond the classroom, using the blockbuster album and video Lemonade as a soundtrack for vital new-millennium narratives.”

A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry & Kali Nicole Gross. “A vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the perspectives and stories of African American women to show how they are — and have always been — instrumental in shaping our country.”

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. “The Combahee River Collective, a path-breaking group of radical black feminists, was one of the most important organizations to develop out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s.”

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. “The antidote to mansplaining.”

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness.”

Again, you can access NYPL’s lists here.

The Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Each year, photographers entering the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards capture animals in various hilarious (and often anthropomorphic) situations and this year’s finalists can hopefully provide you with some relief from the absolute shitstorm that’s raging outside our skulls here in 2020. [Uh, how about something a little more upbeat next time? -ed] (via digg)

The World’s Best Tree Felling Tutorial

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2020

Oh, I already know what you’re thinking. Who cares about how to cut a tree down? Who cares about 8 different ways to cut a tree down? Who cares about watching 45 minutes of 8 different ways to cut a tree down? I hear you. But this tree felling tutorial is actually really informative & entertaining and watching people who are good at their work, are good at explaining their work, and genuinely have a passion for what they do is always worthwhile. The top comments on the video are almost uniformly positive; here’s a representative remark:

I live off-grid in the forest (same mtn range as these guys) and for 30+ years I have been felling trees for fire-prevention, firewood, and home-milled lumber. I have fortunately never had an accident, but after watching this video I realized that was only dumb luck. After carefully studying this video (3 times through), as well as others on this channel, this year I have placed every tree exactly where I wanted (even the leaders) and I’ve done this in a much safer manner than before.

Did you know, for example, the extent to which tree fellers can accurately place a falling tree? I did not and their precision is impressive — I actually cheered when the tree fell during the sizwill cut demo.

In Search of a Flat Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

In Search of a Flat Earth is a documentary essay by Folding Ideas’ Dan Olson that starts out talking about people who believe the Earth is flat (and why it’s so difficult to convince them otherwise) but then takes a sharp turn toward a more recent and much more worrying conspiracy theory, QAnon. Lots of interesting information and observations throughout.

See also QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking.

FDR’s Second Bill of Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2020

In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged Congress to turn its attention to what he called “a second Bill of Rights”, legislation that would ensure all American citizens “equality in the pursuit of happiness”. Roosevelt argued that the United States had grown large enough and economically powerful enough to support this effort.

Here’s an excerpt from his address:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

- The right of every family to a decent home;

- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

- The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

After WWII, many countries in Europe came to similar conclusions and enacted reforms to offer these rights to their citizens. In America, aside from the significant efforts of the Johnson administration in the 60s, we went in different direction, doubling down on inequality in the pursuit of happiness.

Nobody Is Normal

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2020

When I think back to my middle and high school experience, I always felt weird and out of sync with everyone else. I was comparing my insides to my classmates’ outsides and — surprise! — I didn’t measure up. It was only later in life that I realized that this was a universal experience that continues for, as far as I can tell, most of your life? This short promo video for UK youth support hotline Childline (with a Radiohead soundtrack) shows that feeling different is a common experience and urges kids to reach out for help if they’re feeling isolated.

There is nothing wrong with being different from other people. But if feeling different is making you feel isolated or upset, then there are things you can do to feel better.

(via colossal)

Softbody Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2020

I thought you could use a video of some fuzzy Tetris bricks that automagically ease/ooze into their proper places. That’s it. That’s the post. (via @Remember_Sarah)

World’s Fastest Production Car Reaches a Ludicrous 331 MPH on a Public Road

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2020

The SSC Tuatara has snatched the title of the world’s fastest production car away from its rivals by an absurd margin — and it wasn’t even going as fast as it could have.

After the satellite data from the onboard GPS system had been analyzed-the devices tracked two runs in opposite directions and calculated the average-Webb’s last dash came in at a staggering 331.15 mph. The final verified average was 316.11 miles per hour, handily beating both the Koenigsegg and the Bugatti records and cracking the metric milestone of 500 kilometers per hour just for good measure. In addition, the morning’s effort garnered records for the fastest flying mile on a public road (313.12 mph) and the highest speed achieved on a public road (331.15 mph).

How fast is that? “We were covering one and a half football fields each second.” *insert eyes-bugging-out emoji here* The cockpit video above is incredible. Just watch how smoothly and effortlessly the car accelerates right up to 331.15 mph before the driver lets off the gas — there was clearly plenty left. Indeed, the driver hadn’t even shifted into the car’s final gear.

A Photographic Window into the Remote Siberian Territory of Yakutia

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev’s photos of the remote Russian territory of Yakutia (also known as Sakha, ultra-cold in the winter and hot in the summer) and the people who live there are really something.

Yakutia is the largest region of Russia, but it is almost not explored by man. The number of population is only one million on three million square kilometers. There is no other corner on the Earth where people live in such a severe and contrasting climate. In summer the air warms up to 40 degrees Celsius and in winter it drops to 60 degrees below zero. There is the longest duration of winter, temperatures below zero and snow lies here from October to mid-April.

The transport system has made Yakutia one of the most inaccessible areas in the world. There are almost no railways and few roads. Some places can be reached by plane or helicopter only. The remoteness from the world and severe climatic conditions determined a special way of life and culture of local residents.

That culture includes an enthusiasm for filmmaking, which Vasilyev has also captured.

However, Yakutia is famous not only for the severe climate and gold which is mined here, but also for the cinema. Yakut films participate in international festivals in Europe and Asia, receive awards, which are already more than 80. Yakut Hollywood is called “Sakhawood”.

People with different experiences are engaged in filmmaking. Most directors have no special education, for some of them directing is not the main way to earn money. Actors are people who work in the theater, or people who have never acted in a movie before. About 7-10 feature length films are shot here per year, from romantic comedies to fairy tales, based on local legends and beliefs. Sometimes Yakut movies have better box office than world blockbusters.

You can find more of Vasilyev’s work on Instagram.

The Winners of the 2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2020

2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

2020 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition

The winners of the second annual Close-Up Photographer of the Year competition have been announced. You can check out the winners and the finalists on the competition website. The photos above were taken by (from top to bottom) Don Komarechka, Bernhard Schubert, and Gerd A. Günther. (via in focus)

“My Mustache, My Self”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2020

This is a superb essay by Wesley Morris where he starts off talking about his quarantine mustache but ends up considering where he fits in on the broadening spectrum of Blackness, from Carlton Banks to Malcolm X.

My friend had identified a mighty American tradition and placed my face within it. Any time 20th-century Black people found themselves entangled in racialized peril, anytime the roots of racism pushed up some new, hideous weed, a thoughtful-looking, solemn-seeming, crisply attired gentleman would be photographed entering a courthouse or seated somewhere (a library, a living room) alongside the wronged and imperiled. He was probably a lawyer, and he was likely to have been mustached.

The Typography of Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Star Trek title card

poster fro Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek typography

In an extended excerpt from his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies (Amazon), Dave Addey goes long on the typography and design of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and Trek in general).

Alas, The Original Series’s inconsistent typography did not survive the stylistic leap into the 1970s. To make up for it, The Motion Picture’s title card introduces a new font, with some of the curviest Es known to sci-fi. It also follows an emerging seventies trend: Movie names beginning with STAR must have long trailing lines on the opening S.

AlphaGo - The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

I missed this back in March (I think there was a lot going on back then?) but the feature-length documentary AlphaGo is now available to stream for free on YouTube. The movie documents the development by DeepMind/Google of the AlphaGo computer program designed to play Go and the competition between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, a Go master.

With more board configurations than there are atoms in the universe, the ancient Chinese game of Go has long been considered a grand challenge for artificial intelligence. On March 9, 2016, the worlds of Go and artificial intelligence collided in South Korea for an extraordinary best-of-five-game competition, coined The DeepMind Challenge Match. Hundreds of millions of people around the world watched as a legendary Go master took on an unproven AI challenger for the first time in history.

During the competition back in 2016, I wrote a post that rounded up some of the commentary about the matches.

Move after move was exchanged and it became apparent that Lee wasn’t gaining enough profit from his attack.

By move 32, it was unclear who was attacking whom, and by 48 Lee was desperately fending off White’s powerful counter-attack.

I can only speak for myself here, but as I watched the game unfold and the realization of what was happening dawned on me, I felt physically unwell.

Xi’an Famous Foods Cookbook!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

Xi'an Famous Foods Cookbook

I moved away from NYC more than four years ago, and I still think about Xi’an Famous Foods all the time. I miss going there and pondering the make-up of the mind-bendingly delicious sauces they ladled out onto their hand-pulled noodles — “What the hell is in here that makes it taste so good?” Xi’an is one of my favorite restaurants, but with the pandemic and all, the last time I ate there was nearly an entire year ago. So it’s not an understatement to say that I’m overjoyed to see that they are coming out with a cookbook: Xi’an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York’s Favorite Noodle Shop .

CEO Jason Wang divulges the untold story of how this empire came to be, alongside the never-before-published recipes that helped create this New York City icon. From heavenly ribbons of liang pi doused in a bright vinegar sauce to flatbread filled with caramelized pork to cumin lamb over hand-pulled Biang Biang noodles, this cookbook helps home cooks make the dishes that fans of Xi’an Famous Foods line up for while also exploring the vibrant cuisine and culture of Xi’an.

Lemme just highlight the most important part of that paragraph: never-before-published recipes. YESSSSS. The cookbook is coming out next week, but you can pre-order it now from Bookshop.org and Amazon.

We Need to Reckon with the Aerosol Spread of Covid-19

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2020

A spin studio (aka an indoor gym with stationary bikes) in Hamilton, Ontario is dealing with an outbreak of Covid-19 stemming from one asymptomatic patron that has resulted in 69 positive cases so far, even though the studio “followed the rules”. From the CNN report:

SPINCO, in Hamilton, Ontario, just reopened in July and had all of the right protocols in place, including screening of staff and attendees, tracking all those in attendance at each class, masking before and after classes, laundering towels and cleaning the rooms within 30 minutes of a complete class, said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, in a statement.

As the Washington Post reports, patrons were allowed to take their masks off while exercising:

Although Hamilton requires masks to be worn in most public settings, the law includes an exemption for anyone “actively engaged in an athletic or fitness activity.” In keeping with that policy, the studio, SPINCO, allowed riders to remove their masks once clipped into their bikes, and told them to cover up again before dismounting.

The problem here is that while the studio may have followed the rules, they were not the right rules. This outbreak appears to be another clear-cut instance of Covid-19 spread by aerosols. A group of people indoors, without masks, breathing heavily, over long periods of time in what I’m guessing is not a properly ventilated room — this is exactly the sort of thing that has been shown over and over again to be problematic.1The science is there, but governments and public health agencies have not caught up with this yet. If you take the transmission by aerosols into account, the rules for gyms (and bars and restaurants) being open is that they should probably not be open at all — or if they are, they should be well-ventilated and the wearing of masks should be mandatory at all times.2 (via @DrEricDing)

  1. To return once again to aerosol expert Jose-Luis Jimenez’s excellent smoke analogy, attending a spin class with an asymptomatic patron who is breathing heavily is like being in a room with someone who is furiously chain-smoking for an hour. Unless that room is extremely well-ventilated, everyone is going to be breathing in so much smoke.

  2. And to compensate these businesses for their public service in remaining closed, they should be financially supported by the government. We cannot let these businesses, especially small businesses, and their owners go under, for people to lose their savings or go bankrupt, etc. as they help keep the rest of us safe. If we want to have bars and restaurants and gyms and movie theaters and concert venues on the other side of this pandemic, they have to be compensated for their sacrifice on our behalf.

The Wobble Dog 9003i Hot Dog Wobbling Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2020

I didn’t know I needed the Wobble Dog 9003i hot dog wobbling machine in my life before watching this video but now I can’t imagine living without it. Q: Can something be both hilarious and kinda-but-not-really erotic at the same time? A: Yes? (via @machinepix)

Five Nice Things

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2020

After Siobhan O’Connor wrote about a game she plays with a friend called Five Nice Things — which she called “a less-corny name for a gratitude exercise” — my friend Michael Sippey shared his five nice things. And since I need a reminder about some of the good things in my life right now, I’ll share mine with you.

  1. Friends. Like many of you, I’ve had to tighten my circle of friends during the pandemic just out of the necessity of not enough time/energy. That’s been hard, but the few friends that have pulled closer…those connections have been essential in navigating all of this. I’m especially grateful for rebuilding a meaningful friendship and forming a co-parenting partnership with Meg. ♥
  2. Every year in the fall, I go apple picking with the kids and make apple pies. I’ve been tinkering with the recipe — different crusts, different fillings — and I think I’ve settled on something I’m happy with. Maybe I’ll make another one this weekend…
  3. There’s a ramen place in the tiny town I live in that’s better than it has any right to be. I order takeout from them almost every week and it’s such a treat every time.
  4. Since I won’t be traveling anywhere anytime soon, Instagram has been essential for keeping a passive connection to friends all over the world. Liking each other’s photos, the occasional DM, comments on Stories/posts — it’s the same kind of lightweight asynchronous interaction that’s connected folks online since Usenet & CompuServe. I wish we could figure out a way to do this outside the context of massive user-indifferent companies, but going without is not an option for me right now.
  5. I’ve picked up playing Rocket League on the Switch over the past few weeks. It’s footie with the lads but with cars and the lads are anonymous 10-year-olds from New Jersey who are way better than I am. Good fun.

How to Be at Home

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2020

For the National Film Board of Canada, director Andrea Dorfman and poet Tanya Davis collaborated on this short film about how to stay connected with ourselves and feel a connection with others while spending time physically apart from other people. I liked this bit about hugging a tree:

Go outside if you’re able, breathe the air
there are trees for hugging
don’t be embarrassed
it’s your friend, it’s your mother, it’s your new crush
lay your cheek against the bark, it’s a living thing to touch

See also Davis and Dorfman’s previous collaboration: How to Be Alone. (thx, scotty)

Virtual Sets Are Replacing Green Screens

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2020

The green screen is a staple of visual effects for movies and TV. You film actors in front of a green or blue screen and then use digital editing technology to replace the solid color with any background you’d like. But as Phil Edwards explains in this video, the effects teams for some movies and shows (like Disney’s The Mandalorian) have swapped green screens for virtual sets. In lieu of block colored backgrounds, the actors are surrounded by massive LED panels that display the background and background action so everything can be filmed in one go.

It’s a pretty cool technique. Among the benefits of such a system: you get the “natural” light from the LEDs falling on the actors and other objects in the scene, so you don’t need to add it in later digitally or use extra on-set lighting.

RIP Robert Bechtle

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2020

Robert Bechtle 01

Robert Bechtle 02

Speaking of realism, while researching this post on Arinze Stanley, I noticed that American realist painter Robert Bechtle died yesterday. I can’t exactly remember which of the paintings shown above (‘61 Pontiac at the Whitney, Alameda Gran Torino, 1974 at SFMoMA) I saw in person first, but I do remember being instantly drawn to his work. The level of detail combined with objects of such mundanity sent my mind spinning off into all kinds of interesting realms.

The Song Exploder TV Series

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Wow! Hrishikesh Hirway’s Song Exploder podcast is now a Netflix series! (For those who have never listened, Song Exploder features musicians telling the stories of how their songs were created.) Check out the trailer above, featuring song explosions by Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda, R.E.M., and Ty Dolla .

Hirway says on Twitter:

I still don’t fully believe it but @SongExploder, a podcast I started in my bedroom!, is going to be a @netflix series.

If anyone at Netflix wants to talk about kottke.org becoming a series, let me know!! It can be about literally anything and everything. (Hey, we’ll call it “Anything and Everything”! The wheels are already in motion…)

Initial Data Shows Covid-19 Vaccine Is More than 90% Effective

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2020

In a press release (and not a paper in a peer-reviewed journal) based on a preliminary outside review of data from its phase 3 trial, Pfizer says its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing the disease.

The company said that the analysis found that the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers who had no evidence of prior coronavirus infection. If the results hold up, that level of protection would put it on par with highly effective childhood vaccines for diseases such as measles. No serious safety concerns have been observed, the company said.

I really hope this analysis holds up when more data from the study is released:

The data released by Pfizer Monday was delivered in a news release, not a peer-reviewed medical journal. It is not conclusive evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, and the initial finding of more than 90 percent efficacy could change as the trial goes on.

The world, and the United States, could really really use some good news like this about the pandemic.

Update: Here’s Pfizer’s press release. And a thread from Dr. Natalie Dean on how she is interpreting this news (“Celebrate, but let the process play out over time as intended.”)

Pfizer’s first analysis was planned for 32 events, which they pushed back after discussions with FDA. But by the time they analyzed the data, 94 had accrued. This shows how quickly trials can generate results when placed in hotspots (and how much transmission is ongoing!).

These vaccines are tested until a certain number of infections happen. So you have this interesting paradoxical situation where if a potential vaccine is more successful at curbing infection, the longer it takes for the study to conclude. You get a better vaccine but wait longer for it. Countering that are the rising transmission counts in the US — more community transmission will get you to the target number of infections more quickly.

Update: From virologist Dr. Florian Krammer, a thread about what Pfizer and other companies will be looking for in terms of the efficacy of vaccines in a number of different situations. Overall, he is optimistic about these preliminary results. And here’s a FAQ about the vaccine from the NY Times.

Another open question is whether children will get protection from the vaccine. The trial run by Pfizer and BioNTech initially was open to people 18 or older, but in September they began including teenagers as young as 16. Last month, they launched a new trial on children as young as 12 and plan to work their way to younger ages.

Update: A very simplified explanation of Pfizer’s RNA-based vaccine.

The Spell Checkers Agenda

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2020

Deborah Roberts Pluralism

The piece above is part of a series called Pluralism by artist Deborah Roberts — it’s a collage of dozens of Black names marked as misspelled by Microsoft Word’s built-in spell checker. I don’t know about you, but this makes me think about the neutrality of technology, how software is built, who builds it, and for whom it is designed.

I found this via Seeing Black Futures by Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew, which is adapted from their forthcoming book, Black Futures. You can check out more of Roberts’ work on her website or on Instagram.

Representing Covid-19 Deaths, 20,000 Empty Chairs Face the White House

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2020

An array of 20,000 chairs set up in front of the White House

On Sunday in Washington DC, a group called Covid Survivors for Change set up 20,000 chairs in front of the White House to represent the 210,000 people who have died from Covid-19 in the United States.1 Each chair represents about 10 people who have died and their collective emptiness represents both the loss felt by the families & loved ones of those who have died and the feckless, hollow response of the federal government to the suffering.

  1. I’m going to point out once again that whenever you see a number in the media for Covid-19 deaths, that’s the official count. But if you look at the excess mortality in the United States during the period in question, the true death toll is significantly higher. “For example, the US suffered some 260,000 more deaths than the five-year average between 1 March and 16 August, compared to 169,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths during that period.”

Interviews with Titanic Survivors

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2020

In 1979 the BBC aired an interview with Frank Prentice, who was an assistant purser on the Titanic who survived the sinking of the ship in 1912. I’m not sure what to expect when I started listening, but I was completely captivated by Prentice’s tale.


More information on the Mrs. Clark from his story is available here.

Mrs Clark left Titanic with Mrs Astor in lifeboat 4. She recalled Mrs Astor insisting that the lifeboat be turned around to rescue more people; the lifeboat eventually pulled around eight crewmen from the water. When the ship eventually founded Mrs Clark recalled the “heartrending moans and cries” of those struggling in the water.

There are many other interviews with Titanic survivors on YouTube, including this 40-minute feature of seven survivors telling their stories and this 1970 British Pathé clip:

(via @daniel_beattie)

The Songs of 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2020

After creating a series of music video mixes for the entire decade of the 80s (and 1979), the Hood Internet is back to take us through the 90s. Their first video, on 1990, features 60 different songs in only 3.5 minutes and is embedded above.

1990 was my last year of high school, so this is a total memory bomb for me. I listened to a lot of C & C Music Factory, Divinyls, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, En Vogue, Madonna, Mariah Carey, MC Hammer, Roxette, Salt-n-Pepa, Sinéad O’Connor, Whitney Houston, and missed whole scores of much cooler music that was unavailable to me because I lived in the middle of nowhere where the listening choices were country, heavy metal, or top 40. It’s an understatement to say that college was very musically eye-opening for me.

Update: Here are the installments from 1991, 1992, and 1993. Right into my college years and so hugely nostalgic.

Accidentally Wes Anderson, the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2020

Accidentally Wes Anderson book cover

Inspired by the symmetry and color palettes of Wes Anderson’s movies, the Instagram account Accidentally Wes Anderson has been collecting and featuring photos from folks all over the world that wouldn’t look out of place in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel. The creators have turned it into a new book called Accidentally Wes Anderson, which features many of the best contributions from the account. It sounds like it’s kind of a travel book, a visually oriented Atlas Obscura.

Now, inspired by a community of more than one million Adventurers, Accidentally Wes Anderson tells the stories behind more than 200 of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on Earth. This book, authorized by Wes Anderson himself, travels to every continent and into your own backyard to identify quirky landmarks and undiscovered gems: places you may have passed by, some you always wanted to explore, and many you never knew existed.

And while we’re here, I picked out a few of my recent favorites from their Instagram:

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Like Humans, Crows Can “Ponder the Content of Their Own Minds”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

A recent study that looked at the brain patterns of crows when performing tasks found evidence that they “know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds”, an attribute that was previously thought to exist only in humans and some monkeys.

The birds were aware of what they subjectively perceived, flash or no flash, correctly reporting what their sensory neurons recorded, Nieder told STAT. “I think it demonstrates convincingly that crows and probably other advanced birds have sensory awareness, in the sense that they have specific subjective experiences that they can communicate,” he said. “Besides crows, this kind of neurobiological evidence for sensory consciousness only exists in humans and macaque monkeys.”

(via kottke ride home)

The Origins of Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2020

From Khalil Gibran Muhammad and Chenjerai Kumanyika, a quick tour of the history of policing in America and how that history should shape our discussions around police reform, defunding, and abolition.

The story of policing in the United States is the story of systems meant to protect and serve only a fraction of Americans.

As Kumanyika says in closing, the police in America are fulfilling their purpose very well. But the public has other demands that are not being met.

See also A History of Policing in America and Why Police Reform Doesn’t Work In America.

“I Feel Sorry for Americans”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2020

Hannah Beech reports on how the United States1 is perceived by the outside world these days due to our poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the continuing failure of our political system.

Myanmar is a poor country struggling with open ethnic warfare and a coronavirus outbreak that could overload its broken hospitals. That hasn’t stopped its politicians from commiserating with a country they think has lost its way.

“I feel sorry for Americans,” said U Myint Oo, a member of parliament in Myanmar. “But we can’t help the U.S. because we are a very small country.”

The same sentiment prevails in Canada, one of the most developed countries. Two out of three Canadians live within about 60 miles of the American border.

“Personally, it’s like watching the decline of the Roman Empire,” said Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, an industrial city on the border with Michigan, where locals used to venture for lunch.

And I had to chuckle at this part:

“The U.S.A. is a first-world country but it is acting like a third-world country,” said U Aung Thu Nyein, a political analyst in Myanmar.

I made a similar observation after a trip to Asia in January: “America is a rich country that feels like a poor country.” I got a bunch of pushback on that statement but after the past eight months, the pandemic has laid America’s deficiencies bare for the whole world to see clearly.

  1. Even the name of the damn country seems like a hilarious anachronism these days. States, sure. But united? Lol.

“Voting Trump Out Is Not Enough”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

For the New Yorker, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that as much noise and pain that Donald Trump generated while he was in office, it can’t hold a candle to America’s systemic problems, which remain unaddressed by both major parties.

Like tens of millions of Americans, I voted to end the miserable reign of Donald J. Trump, but we cannot perpetuate the election-year fiction that the deep and bewildering problems facing millions of people in this country will simply end with the Trump Administration. They are embedded in “the system,” in systemic racism, and the other social inequities that are the focus of continued activism and budding social movements. Viewing the solution to these problems as simply electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both underestimates the depth of the problems and trivializes the remedies necessary to undo the damage. That view may also confuse popular support for fundamental change, as evidenced by Trump’s one-term Presidency, with what the Democratic Party is willing or even able to deliver.

The Trailer for Season Two of The Mandalorian

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

So admittedly I was not the biggest fan of the first season of The Mandalorian — I don’t particularly care for westerns, space or otherwise, and in terms of the off-piste Star Wars tales, preferred Rogue One and even Solo to Mando’s adventures. But there is something compelling there and because I was indoctrinated in the ways of The Force as a child,1 I will watch the new season that starts on Disney+ October 30.

  1. I am not Force-sensitive myself, but I like to watch those who are.