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Full Metal Gymnast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Boston Dynamics programmed their Atlas robot to do a gymnastics routine.

I lost it when it did that little jump split at about 13 seconds in. That looked seriously human in a deeply unsettling way.

The Mother of Forensic Science and Her “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

(Note: This post contains images of simulated crime scenes.) Frances Glessner Lee is known as “the mother of forensic science” for her role in revolutionizing how crimes were investigated. Starting in the 40s and using her skills in making miniature models that she learned as a young girl, Lee built detailed and intricate crime scene dioramas to help train homicide investigators to properly investigate and canvas a crime scene. From a Smithsonian exhibition of Lee’s work:

At the time, there was very little training for investigators, meaning that they often overlooked or mishandled key evidence, or irrevocably tampered with crime scenes. Few had any medical training that would allow them to determine cause of death. As Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change this, tools were needed to help trainees scientifically approach their search for truth. Lee was a talented artist as well as criminologist, and used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to solve this problem. She constructed the Nutshells beginning in the 1940s to teach investigators to properly canvass a crime scene to effectively uncover and understand evidence. The equivalent to “virtual reality” in their time, her masterfully crafted dioramas feature handmade objects to render scenes with exacting accuracy and meticulous detail.

Every element of the dioramas — from the angle of minuscule bullet holes, the placement of latches on widows, the patterns of blood splatters, and the discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses — challenges trainees’ powers of observation and deduction. The Nutshells are so effective that they are still used in training seminars today at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

Here are some images of Lee’s surviving dioramas (found here):

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

In a video about the Smithsonian exhibition, curator Nora Atkinson explains that it shows how Lee “co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation”:

See also this Vox video about Lee’s work, which goes into detail about the evidence at a couple of the crime scenes:

Zach Galifianakis’ Brief Stint at Saturday Night Live

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

In this clip from a longer conversation in the Off Camera interview series, Zach Galifianakis talks about his brief two-week stint on Saturday Night Live and how he felt when a sketch he wrote totally bombed at the cast table read.

Here are all 10 clips of the interview. See also Robert Downey Jr. recounting his year-long SNL career.

A Video Timeline of Seven Million Years of Human Evolution

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

From the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, an animated timeline of human evolution, from when hominins first show up in the fossil record in Africa some seven million years ago to the appearance of Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. You can see artifacts and fossil remains of many of the hominins at the museum in the Hall of Human Origins. I haven’t been there in awhile…might be time for a visit.

I got this from Open Culture, where Colin Marshall goes into more detail:

And though hominins may have walked upright, they also climbed trees, but eventually lost the grasping feet needed to do so. Later they compensated with the very human-like development of making and using stone tools. Two million years ago, the well-known Homo erectus, with their large brains, long legs, and dextrous hands, made the famous migration out of Africa.

We know that by 1.2 million years thereafter Homo erectus’ brains had grown larger still, fueled by new cooking techniques. Only about 200,000 years ago do we, Homo sapiens, enter the picture, but not long after, we interbreed with the various hominin species already in existence as we spread outward to fill “every geographic niche” of the Earth.

The last bit of the video was unexpectedly sobering:

Homo sapiens were highly adaptable, quickly filling nearly every geographic niche. Other hominins went extinct. Climate pressures and competition with Homo sapiens may have wiped them out.

If we don’t change our ways soon, one way to look at the recent history of life on Earth is that modern humans came along 200,000 years ago and systematically conquered and killed the all of the animals on the planet larger than an ant. Not such a great deal for anything but people.

Finishing Rita’s Quilt

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

Shannon Downey regularly goes to estate sales to buy unfinished embroidery projects and then completes them — “there’s no way that soul is resting with an unfinished project left behind”. At a recent sale, she found a quilting project begun by a woman named Rita who had recently died at the age of 99.

Ritas Quilt

Downey doesn’t quilt but wanted to finish the project, so she asked her Instagram followers for help. Hundreds of people volunteered. Read about the progress of the project so far here on Twitter or keep up with it on Instagram at #ritasquilt. (via @nhannahjones)

Succession’s Preoccupation with the Power of Words (or Lack Thereof)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Have you been watching Succession? I feel bad about enjoying watching rich people be horrible to each other, but I do love the show. Evan Puschak rewatched both seasons with a careful eye and noticed the show’s preoccupation with language and how it is used and misused by the characters in the show.

Kendall: Words are just nothing. Complicated airflow.

One of the things I like most about the show is that I can’t figure out whether it’s a comedy or a drama. It’s bitingly funny and satirical but the whole thing is packaged like a drama and there are genuine emotional moments. I felt the same way about Fleabag and Transparent…the combination and subversion of these two familiar buckets of storytelling is part of what makes all of these shows great.

Can You Draw a Perfect Circle?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2019

This maddening little web toy on vole.wtf challenges visitors to draw a perfect circle and judges them on how well they do. After dozens of tries with a mouse, I could only manage 92.9% perfection (which looks more like 80% tbh).

Perfect Circle

Then I tried it on a touchscreen and got much closer: 95.2%. Several more tries with an Apple Pencil bumped it up to 97.7%, after which I retired so as not to waste the entire rest of my afternoon on this.

And of course, here’s the classic video of Alexander Overwijk drawing a perfect freehand circle on the blackboard in about a second.

I love everything about this video — the way he swings his arm to warm up, his drying-the-blackboard flapping motion, and the ease of his perfection. 100.0%. (via sam potts)

Jeff Bridges Takes Photographs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Jeff Bridges Photos

Jeff Bridges Photos

Ever since Starman in 1984, Jeff Bridges has taken photos on the set of every film he’s acted in using his Widelux F8 camera. Sometimes he compiles them into picture books for the cast and crew. Sometimes he posts them to his charmingly old school website. And sometimes he compiles them into coffee table books that you and I can have in our homes. Nick Chen recently interviewed Bridges about his photography.

Dazed: You did The Big Lebowski and True Grit with the Coen Brothers. What do they make of your photography?

Jeff Bridges: I think they get a kick out of it. They’re pretty cool cats. They don’t go overboard with praise or anything. They’re certainly wonderful to work with, and they’re true masters, so I was happy that they gave a stamp of approval on my book. That was nice.

Dazed: Does Roger Deakins ever want a co-credit for doing the lighting?

Jeff Bridges: (laughs) No, he did not ask me. But wow, talk about masters. Isn’t he terrific? My God, he does it just right.

Pictures by Jeff Bridges was released in 2003 and now a follow-up is coming out in mid-October 2019: Jeff Bridges: Pictures Volume 2. (thx, david)

Update: The International Center of Photography honored Bridges with an award in 2013 and produced this video about his photography.

Tycho’s 2019 Burning Man DJ Set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

For the past 6 years, Tycho has done a 2-hour DJ set at Burning Man to coincide with the sunrise. He’s just posted 2019’s installment and I’m going to be listening to this all week long.

Check out his past installments as well: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014. (thx, scott)

A Visit to the Most Solitary Place on Earth, the Deep Sea

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

For their latest video, Kurzgesagt takes a typically informative journey from the surface of the ocean all the way down to the deepest spot on Earth, Challenger Deep.

In the segment about marine snow — decaying matter and feces that falls from the resource-rich sliver of ocean near the surface to provide the thin sustenance for the entire rest of the ocean — I couldn’t help but think about trickle-down economics.

The Moog Cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

I pretty much stopped using iTunes for music when I switched to Rdio1 (and then to Spotify). So going back in there is like unearthing a time capsule of music I listened to from ~2003-2012. This morning, bored of my Spotify playlists, I dug around a little and rediscovered a cache of songs by The Moog Cookbook. The duo uses old school Moog synthesizers to make playful covers of rock & pop songs like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Are You Gonna Go My Way? by Lenny Kravitz, and Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie. Their album of classic rock covers is available on Spotify:

Their debut album (which I like more) is a bit tougher to find, but you can listen to the whole thing here on YouTube:

  1. I still miss Rdio. *sniff*

Machine Hallucination

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

Machine Hallucination

After seeing some videos on my pal Jenni’s Instagram of Refik Anadol’s immersive display at ARTECHOUSE in NYC, it’s now at the top of my list of things to see the next time I’m in NYC.

Machine Hallucination, Anadol’s first large-scale installation in New York City is a mixed reality experiment deploying machine learning algorithms on a dataset of over 300 million images — representing a wide-ranging selection of architectural styles and movements — to reveal the hidden connections between these moments in architectural history. As the machine generates a data universe of architectural hallucinations in 1025 dimensions, we can begin to intuitively understand the ways that memory can be spatially experienced and the power of machine intelligence to both simultaneously access and augment our human senses.

Here’s a video of Anadol explaining his process and a little bit about Machine Hallucination. Check out some reviews at Designboom, Gothamist, and Art in America and watch some video of the installation here.

A Forest Grows on an Austrian Soccer Pitch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

For Forest 01

For Forest — The Unending Attraction of Nature is an art installation from Klaus Littmann that features a forest made up of 300 trees in the middle of a soccer stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Using 300 trees, some of which weigh up to six tonnes, landscape architect Enzo Enea will cover the entire playing field with a mixed forest characteristic of Central Europe.

From the grandstands, visitors can admire the spectacle of the trees day and night (from 10am until 10pm). Admission is free. A sight that is as unfamiliar as it is fascinating and bound to stir up a range of emotions and reactions! Depending on the time of day (or night), the trees will constitute a constantly changing landscape that is shaped by the weather as well as the autumnal turning of the leaves. The installation is a clever play on our emotions when faced with what should be a familiar sight, placed in an entirely different context. With this monumental work of art, Littmann challenges our perception of nature and sharpens our awareness of the future relation between nature and humankind.

The project also sees itself as a warning: One day, we might have to admire the remnants of nature in specially assigned spaces, as is already the case with zoo animals.

Littmann modeled the project on a 1970 drawing by Max Peintner.

For Forest 02

I didn’t think much of this project from just the photos, but this short video really highlights the darkly comedic experience of having to go to a soccer stadium to look at nature — not to experience nature, but to sit in a moulded plastic seat a few hundred feet away from nature to look and cheer but not to touch or walk around in.

I would love to see this in person. For Forest is on view until late October.

Pixar’s Fake Real Cameras

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Pixar is always trying to push the envelope of animation and filmmaking, going beyond what they’ve done before. For the studio’s latest release, Toy Story 4, the filmmakers worked to inject as much reality into the animation as possible and to make it feel like a live-action movie shot with real cameras using familiar lenses and standard techniques. In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak shares how they did that:

As I learned when I visited Pixar this summer,1 all of the virtual cameras and lenses they use in their 3D software to “shoot” scenes are based on real cameras and lenses. As the first part of the video shows, when they want two things to be in focus at the same time, they use a lens with a split focus diopter. You can tell that’s what they’re doing because you can see the artifacts on the screen — the blurring, the line marking the diopter transition point — just as you would in a live-action film.

They’re doing a similar thing by capturing the movement of actual cameras and then importing the motion into their software:

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera.

Now, this is a really interesting decision on Pixar’s part! Since their filmmaking is completely animated and digital, they can easily put any number of objects in focus in the same scene or simply erase the evidence that a diopter was used. But no, they keep it in because making something look like it was shot in the real world with real cameras helps the audience believe the action on the screen. Our brains have been conditioned by more than 100 years of cinema to understand the visual language of movies, including how cameras move and lenses capture scenes. Harnessing that visual language helps Pixar’s filmmakers make the presentation of the action on the screen seem familiar rather than unrealistic.

  1. Q: How do you know when someone has recently visited Pixar?

    A: Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

True Facts About the Ogre-Faced Spider

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

Ze Frank released the most recent video in his True Facts series about animals last month. Meet the ogre-faced spider. Admittedly I haven’t watched any of the other True Facts videos in awhile, but this one seemed unusually informative (while retaining Frank’s signature humorous asides). I would watch an entire nature series like this: funny but not dumbed down on the science side.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring Is As Relevant As Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

In light of the recent news of almost 30% of America’s birds disappearing in the past 50 years and the ongoing news of the climate crisis, it’s worth reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a serialized version of which was published by the New Yorker in 1962 in three parts (one, two, three). From the opening of the first NYer piece:

Then, one spring, a strange blight crept over the area, and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community; mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, and the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was the shadow of death. The farmers told of much illness among their families. In the town, the doctors were becoming more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness that had appeared among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among the adults but also among the children, who would be stricken while they were at play, and would die within a few hours.

And there was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? Many people, baffled and disturbed, spoke of them. The feeding stations in the back yards were deserted. The few birds to be seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.

On the farms, the hens brooded but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs; the litters were small, and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom, but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

The roadsides were lined with brown and withered vegetation, and were silent, too, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died.

In the gutters under the eaves, and between the shingles of the roofs, a few patches of white granular powder could be seen; some weeks earlier this powder had been dropped, like snow, upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had snuffed out life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

To call Carson’s words prescient would be a huge understatement. “The people had done it themselves” indeed.

Pixelized Endangered Species - One Pixel Per Living Animal of At-Risk Species

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

In 2008, Japanese creative agency Hakuhodo created a campaign for the World Wildlife Federation that featured photos of endangered animals where the number of pixels in the photo matched the remaining population of the animal pictured.

Pixel Endangered Species

Pixel Endangered Species

Imgur user JJSmooth44 recently updated the campaign to include many more animals, including the unrecognizable Javan rhino.

Pixel Endangered Species

(via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Winners of the 2019 Small World Photomicrography Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Nikon has announced the winning entries in the 2019 Small World Photomicrography Competition. Here are a few of the winners that caught my eye:

Photomicrography Contest 2019

Photomicrography Contest 2019

Photomicrography Contest 2019

From top to bottom, cells undergoing mitosis by Jason Kirk, a frozen water droplet by Garzon Christian, and a housefly eye by Razvan Cornel Constantin. Check out the rest of the winning entries here. (via in focus)

A Free Font Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Handwriting

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

Greta Grotesk

Inspired by the handwritten sign that climate activist Greta Thunberg has been using since beginning her climate strike in August 2018, a startup called Uno has produced a font of her handwriting available for free download.

Greta Grotesk

Happy 150th Birthday, Periodic Table!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

Bloomberg Businessweek dedicated their entire Sept 2, 2019 issue to the periodic table (it’s 150 years old this year) and the elements it contains. From the introductory essay:

Over the past century and a half, but particularly since World War II, scientists and engineers have learned to treat the periodic table like a banquet table-a bountiful spread from which to pluck what they need. There’s scandium in bicycle frames, tin (stannous fluoride) in toothpaste, tungsten in catheters, and arsenic in some computer chips. We are well past the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age, and into the Everything Age, because almost every entry on the periodic table is being put to some kind of use in today’s economy (excluding synthetic elements that are costly to make and highly radioactive, such as einsteinium).

Cellphones exemplify the complexification. The first ones in the 1980s “were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” Larry Meinert, U.S. Geological Survey deputy associate director for energy and minerals, said in 2017. “Today, they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.” That may include tantalum from Rwanda, potassium from Belarus, silver from Mexico, tin from Myanmar, carbon from India, and germanium from China.

Scrolling down on the main story page will take you on a modern-day tour of the periodic table from the lightest elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium) to the heavier ones (uranium, polonium) to some fake ones (adamantium, unobtanium, feminum).

The Songs of 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 & 1983

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Chicago mashup masters The Hood Internet have been pretty quiet lately — their last mixtape was released more than two years ago. But in the west, a shadow stirs… In the same vein as their 40 Years of Hip Hop video, the duo has released a musical tribute to 1979, combining 50 songs released that year into a tight 3-minute mix.

Their plan is to release a new video each week in October that will cover the subsequent four years, 1980-1983.

Update: Here is their video for 1980. I’ll share the rest of them as they post.

Here are 1981, 1982, and 1983:

Map of the First Words of European National Anthems

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2019

Europe Map Anthems

From the @europemaps Instagram account, a map of the first words of the national anthems of European countries. Collectively, it sounds like northern Europe is having some fun in the bedroom: oh… yes… you… there… oh… my… god… not yet…

Please also note that there are a lot of people in the comments with corrections, especially about Spain, Germany, and Turkey, so take it with a grain of salt.

The Global Mega-Colony of Ants

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

Ants are fascinating. They’re small and individually dumb, but together they can form very complex societies capable of activities like farming and altering entire ecosystems. In this video, Kurzgesagt shows how the Argentine ant became one of the most numerous and successful species of ant in the world, forming a single mega-colony across the entire Earth, from Argentina to the US to Japan.

“The enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society,” the researchers write in the journal Insect Sociaux, in which they report their findings.

However, the irony is that it is us who likely created the ant mega-colony by initially transporting the insects around the world, and by continually introducing ants from the three continents to each other, ensuring the mega-colony continues to mingle.

“Humans created this great non-aggressive ant population,” the researchers write.

The Milky Way Reflected in the World’s Largest Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

Jheison Huerta

I love this photograph by Peruvian photographer Jheison Huerta. It’s a shot of the Milky Way above the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. After it rains, the thin layer of water transforms the flat into the world’s largest mirror, some 80 miles across. Beautiful.

See also The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo. (via astronomy picture of the day)

AirPods, an Augmented-Reality Wearable Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

For Real Life magazine, Drew Austin writes about wireless headphones and their potential effect on the public sphere if many people start wearing them. The bit that particularly caught my eye was the subtitle of the piece:

Wireless headphones are augmented reality devices.

And further down the page:

Much as phones have enabled and concretized the always-on nature of everyday life, introducing the constant interpenetration of physical and digital space to individual experience, wireless earbuds facilitate a deeper integration, an “always in” existence that we need never interrupt by looking down at a screen. Their aural interface means we don’t have to awkwardly switch attention back and forth between IRL and a screen as though the two are starkly separated. Instead, we can seem to occupy both seamlessly, an experience that other augmented-reality devices, like Google Glass, have promised with varying degrees of success.

I bought some AirPods several months ago thinking I was getting wireless headphones, but very quickly realized they were actually an augmented-reality wearable computer. In my media diet post from May, I called them “the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless”. Like regular wired earbuds or even over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones, AirPods provide an audio track layered over the real world, but they’re so light and let just the right amount of ambient sound in that you barely notice you’re wearing them — it just sounds like whatever you’re listening to is playing in your head, automagically. It feels, at least to me, like a totally different and far more immersive experience. Wearable computing still seems like a futuristic thing a few years away, but with AirPods and the Apple Watch, it’s solidly here right now.

P.S. In Dan Hon’s latest newsletter, he writes:

Given current phone/camera trends (or, I should say, current camera/phone trends), the Star Trek: TNG combadge is unrealistic because by the 24th century it’d be more like 99.9998% camera and 0.0002% phone.

The natural ancestor of the combadge seems more like AirPods than the iPhone. But the likelihood of AirPods 6.0 having a tiny camera embedded in it for, say, the facial recognition of whoever you’re speaking with (a la Miranda Priestly’s assistants in The Devil Wears Prada) or text-to-speech for whatever you’re looking at (signs, books, menus) seems quite high.

RPG Dungeon Generator

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

One Page Dungeon

One Page Dungeon generates small dungeon layouts for RPG adventures (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) You can just throw all that graph paper in the recycling.

See also Auto-Generated Maps of Fantasy Worlds, Fractal Terrain in Javascript, and the Medieval Town Generator. (via @pomeranian99)

How IBM’s Technology Powered the Holocaust

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

IBM Nazi Punchcard

According to a book by human rights journalist Edwin Black, Hitler needed logistical help in carrying out the genocide of Europe’s Jewish population. IBM, an American company whose leadership was obsessed with growth and profits, was happy to provide Hitler with their punch card machines and technology. From The Nazi Party: IBM & “Death’s Calculator” (excerpted from Black’s 2001 book IBM and the Holocaust):

Solipsistic and dazzled by its own swirling universe of technical possibilities, IBM was self-gripped by a special amoral corporate mantra: if it can be done, it should be done. To the blind technocrat, the means were more important than the ends. The destruction of the Jewish people became even less important because the invigorating nature of IBM’s technical achievement was only heightened by the fantastical profits to be made at a time when bread lines stretched across the world.

So how did it work?

When Hitler came to power, a central Nazi goal was to identify and destroy Germany’s 600,000 Jews. To Nazis, Jews were not just those who practiced Judaism, but those of Jewish blood, regardless of their assimilation, intermarriage, religious activity, or even conversion to Christianity. Only after Jews were identified could they be targeted for asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and ultimately extermination. To search generations of communal, church, and governmental records all across Germany — and later throughout Europe — was a cross-indexing task so monumental, it called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed.

When the Reich needed to mount a systematic campaign of Jewish economic disenfranchisement and later began the massive movement of European Jews out of their homes and into ghettos, once again, the task was so prodigious it called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed. When the Final Solution sought to efficiently transport Jews out of European ghettos along railroad lines and into death camps, with timing so precise the victims were able to walk right out of the boxcar and into a waiting gas chamber, the coordination was so complex a task, this too called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed.

However, another invention did exist: the IBM punch card and card sorting system — a precursor to the computer. IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler’s program of Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success. IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler’s Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before — the automation of human destruction. More than 2,000 such multi-machine sets were dispatched throughout Germany, and thousands more throughout German-dominated Europe. Card sorting operations were established in every major concentration camp. People were moved from place to place, systematically worked to death, and their remains cataloged with icy automation.

IBM Germany, known in those days as Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, or Dehomag, did not simply sell the Reich machines and then walk away. IBM’s subsidiary, with the knowledge of its New York headquarters, enthusiastically custom-designed the complex devices and specialized applications as an official corporate undertaking. Dehomag’s top management was comprised of openly rabid Nazis who were arrested after the war for their Party affiliation. IBM NY always understood — from the outset in 1933 — that it was courting and doing business with the upper echelon of the Nazi Party. The company leveraged its Nazi Party connections to continuously enhance its business relationship with Hitler’s Reich, in Germany and throughout Nazi-dominated Europe.

It’s not difficult to see the relevance of this episode today. Should Microsoft-owned GitHub provide software to ICE for possible use in the agency’s state-sanctioned persecution of immigrants and asylum seekers? Should Twitter allow Donald Trump to incite terrorism on their service? Should Google provide AI to the Pentagon for the potential development of deadlier weapons? And Christ, where do you even start with Facebook? Palantir, Apple, and Amazon have also been criticized recently for allowing unethical usage of their technology and platforms. “It’s just business” and the belief in the neutrality of technology (and technology platforms) have combined to produce a shield that contemporary companies use to protect themselves from activists’ ethical criticisms. And increasingly, the customers and employees of these companies aren’t buying it because they don’t want history to repeat itself. (via marc hedlund)

Five True Tales of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Great Big Stories has collected five of their video short stories into a collection: 5 True Tales of Manhattan. The stories include a restaurant that serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, Sunday night jazz concerts in a Harlem apartment, and a woman who rehabs dozens of turtles in her small apartment.

“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2019

Filmmaker Charlie Tyrell’s father passed away when Charlie was in film school. Feeling like he never really knew his father all that well, he went through his stuff after he died, looking for clues as to who he really was. His tools, his police uniform, his cancer diagnosis. Charlie made a short film about his dad: My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes.

We hold onto our loved ones when they pass. Objects can become talismans, and memories become mythic. Some objects become sacred for no reason and are just as impenetrable as the people who left them. I came to a conclusion during my process: You can’t take it with you, but you can pass it on.

The tapes mentioned in the title don’t feature all that much in the film; it’s actually about family secrets, breaking a generational cycle of abuse, and parenting. In talking about her husband’s difficulty connecting with his children, Charlie’s mom says: “you bring what you know to parenting”. As someone who often struggles as a parent, that line hit me hard. From a post I wrote a few years ago:

I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can’t tell them or show them how to do that because I’m me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I’m just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it?

And from Madeline Miller’s Circe:

Two children he had had and he had not seen either clearly. But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.

How Does Waffle House Stay Open During Disasters?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

Waffle House is prepared to make you breakfast at all hours of the day in any kind of weather. The restaurant chain is so widely respected for its severe weather preparedness that a former director of FEMA started using their stores as an indicator of how bad a particular storm or disaster was:

The “Waffle House Index,” first coined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Director W. Craig Fugate, is based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.

For example, if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well prepared for disasters, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.

Annie Blanks recently visited the “Waffle House Storm Center” in advance of Hurricane Dorian’s predicted landfall in Florida.

When any of the stores are in danger of being hit by severe weather, so-called “jump teams” are activated to be ready to deploy wherever needed.

Jump teams are made up of Waffle House contractors, construction workers, gas line experts, restaurant operators, food providers and other associates who are assembled and ready to go wherever needed at a moment’s notice. Their purpose is to help relieve local Waffle House operators and employees who need to evacuate, be with their families or tend to their homes when a storm hits, and help make sure restaurants are able to open quickly after a storm or stay open during a storm.

On Twitter, Blanks shared a photo of the four different pared-down menus that Waffle House prepares for disasters.

Waffle House Menus

(via @LauraVW)

What’s the Fastest Way to Board an Airplane?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

In this video, CGP Grey investigates fast and not-so-fast methods for boarding commercial airline flights. Most airlines board passengers using the relatively slow back-to-front method — with a bit of the even slower front-to-back method at the start for first, business, premium economy, and frequent flying passengers — even though boarding in a random order would be quicker. In 2008, physicist Jason Steffen determined the optimal boarding method, which involves passengers boarding in a precise order to minimize people waiting for other people putting their luggage in the overhead bin.

Meet Next-Gen CRISPR, “a True Search-and-Replace Function for DNA”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

MIT Technology Review’s Antonio Regalado reports on an improved gene editing technique that can rewrite DNA without actually cutting the DNA (which can damage and introduce errors into the genome). It’s called “prime editing”.

Today, in the latest — and possibly most important — of recent improvements to CRISPR technology, Liu is introducing “prime editing,” a molecular gadget he says can rewrite any type of genetic error without actually severing the DNA strand, as CRISPR does.

The new technology uses an engineered protein that, according to a report by Liu and 10 others today in the journal Nature, can transform any single DNA letter into any other, as well as add or delete longer stretches. In fact, Liu claims it’s capable of repairing nearly any of the 75,000 known mutations that cause inherited disease in humans.

From the abstract of the report:

Prime editing substantially expands the scope and capabilities of genome editing, and in principle could correct about 89% of known pathogenic human genetic variants.

See more coverage of this story at Nature, Scientific American, and Wired.

An Alternate ABC Song that Slows Down the Tricky LMNOP Bit

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

An alternate version of the ABC song that slows down the LMNOP part is currently going viral because of a tweet by Noah Garfinkel: “They changed the ABC song to clarify the LMNOP part, and it is life ruining.”

I tracked down the original video from 2012:

The alternate arrangement is by Matt Richelson, who runs a popular YouTube channel and several websites dedicated to offering free materials (songs, lesson plans, etc.) to help kids learn English. Here’s what Richelson says about his version of the ABC song:

About the slow l,m,n,o,p: I teach young learners of English as a foreign language, and have found this way the most effective for teaching the letters.

I love the ellemmennohpee bit as much as anyone, but his reasoning is solid.

Wicker Musical Chairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

I bet you don’t think about wicker furniture that much, but Estelle Caswell does. In this video, which proves that almost anything can be interesting if the right person looks at it from the right angle, she explores how the peacock wicker chair became an unlikely pop culture icon.

The golden age of album cover design doesn’t have a specific start and end date, but many regard the late 1960s to 1970s as one of the field’s most exciting times. From the psychedelic rock covers of the ’60s to glistening airbrush covers of the ’70s, the era was a kaleidoscope of colors worthy of placement in modern art museums.

But there’s one genre of cover so ubiquitous it almost flew under the radar. The covers typically featured a wide shot of the artist sitting on a throne-like wicker chair, like a king or queen. Usually, the artist looked casual and relaxed; sometimes props would sit around them to decorate the scene. No matter what, the oversized woven chair was the main feature. This was the peacock chair album cover, and it was everywhere: Dolly Parton, Al Green, and Cher all sat in it.

The Odyssey in Limerick Form

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

Emily Wilson, whose translation of The Odyssey recently reintroduced the epic to a wider non-classics audience, has now cheekily translated the tale of Odysseus into a series of limericks. She starts off:

There was a young man called Telemachus
who was bullied and in a dilemma ‘cause
he missed his lost dad
and his mom made him mad
and he almost got killed by Eurymachus.

And here’s the bit about Odysseus’ men eating the cattle of Helios, which earns them a thunderbolt from Zeus.

The men were fed up with their boss,
the rich guy, who’d gone for a doss.
They ate up the cattle,
which shortly proved fatal,
and all of their short lives were lost.

So good.

The Finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

The internet is 97% hilarious animals and today we have the best of the best. The finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards have been announced. Among them are this well-timed shot of a bird who’s really hauling:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

A small chimp kicking back at his desk after a hard day at work:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

And then there’s this dramatic fellow:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

You can check out the rest of the finalists on the website. (via digg)

Update: See also this enraptured squirrel smelling a yellow flower.

A Documentary Film about Anthony Bourdain Is in the Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

Morgan Neville is directing a documentary movie about Anthony Bourdain.

CNN Films, HBO Max, and Focus Features are partnering on the still-untitled film, which is produced by Neville’s Tremolo Productions. Focus will release the documentary first in theaters before a television premiere on CNN, followed by a streaming bow on the soon-to-launch HBO Max, coming in 2020. Dates for the release have yet to be announced.

Neville is the director of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Fred Rogers documentary that may have made you cry recently. It will be interesting to see what this film can add to the extensive self-documentation that Bourdain put out into the world through his books and TV shows.

Narrative Illustrator Owen Pomery

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

Owen Pomery

Owen Pomery

Owen Pomery

I really like Owen Pomery’s illustrative style — his drawings are spare yet detailed, precise but a bit messy. You can see his work on his website, on Twitter, or on Instagram. He sells prints and books in his shop, including this field guide to modernist kiosk designs in a fictional country.

Owen Pomery

(via @dunstan)

Some Dazzling Early Entries from the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

The World Photography Organization has shared some of the early entries for the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards with In Focus. Here are a couple of my favorites (from Khanh Phan and F. Dilek Uyar respectively):

2020 Sony World Photography Awards

2020 Sony World Photography Awards

Pros and amateurs alike can enter the competition on the WPO site…deadlines are in January 2020. And check out their blog for more of their favorite early entries.

The History of Europe, Every Year from 400 BCE to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

This video is an animated history of the shifting borders of Europe from 400 BCE to the present. This is a very nation-centric view of European history (and I would mute the music and use your own soundtrack), but it’s still worth a look.

What’s Weirder: Glenlivet’s Tide Pods or Le Creuset’s Star Wars Collection?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Last week we saw two absolutely incredible product introductions, and I’m having trouble picking a favorite. First, there were Glenlivet’s cocktail capsules that immediately reminded the entire internet of Tide Pods.

Glenlivet Pods

And then there was Le Creuset’s Star Wars collection of cookware, including a Darth Vader dutch oven, R2-D2 cooker, a Han Solo in carbonite roasting pan, and a “hand-painted, special-edition Tatooine™ Round Dutch Oven, inspired by the desert planet with captivating binary sunsets”.

Star Wars Le Creuset

Star Wars Le Creuset

People, we are living in a true golden age.

How to Become Freakishly Good at the Yo-Yo

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

You may not be particularly into the yo-yo, but any expert’s explanation of their particular skill or craft is fascinating. In this video for Wired, world yo-yo champion Gentry Stein explains the sport, shares some basic moves, and shows off his most difficult tricks. I used to yo-yo a bit — nothing like what Stein does in that video though — and watching him makes me want to buy one of these professional yo-yos and practice up.

America’s Unjust Regressive Tax System and How to Fix It

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

On Monday, I posted a link to David Leonhardt’s NY Times piece, The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.

For the first time on record, the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data. That’s a sharp change from the 1950s and 1960s, when the wealthy paid vastly higher tax rates than the middle class or poor. Since then, taxes that hit the wealthiest the hardest — like the estate tax and corporate tax — have plummeted, while tax avoidance has become more common. President Trump’s 2017 tax cut, which was largely a handout to the rich, plays a role, too. It helped push the tax rate on the 400 wealthiest households below the rates for almost everyone else.

Tax 2019 Regressive

The result is a tax system that is much less progressive than it used to be. And unjust. The economists who compiled this data, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, have written a book called The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. In this piece called How to Tax Our Way Back to Justice, the pair lay out the problem and how we can fix it to make our tax system more just for the majority of Americans.

The good news is that we can fix tax injustice, right now. There is nothing inherent in modern technology or globalization that destroys our ability to institute a highly progressive tax system. The choice is ours. We can countenance a sprawling industry that helps the affluent dodge taxation, or we can choose to regulate it. We can let multinationals pick the country where they declare their profits, or we can pick for them. We can tolerate financial opacity and the countless possibilities for tax evasion that come with it, or we can choose to measure, record and tax wealth.

If we believe most commentators, tax avoidance is a law of nature. Because politics is messy and democracy imperfect, this argument goes, the tax code is always full of “loopholes” that the rich will exploit. Tax justice has never prevailed, and it will never prevail. […] But they are mistaken.

Beading the Cosmos

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2019

Margaret Nazon

Inspired by some photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, Margaret Nazon began in 2009 to make beaded artworks of stars, galaxies, planets, and nebula. I love her representation of the Milky Way, pictured above. Nazon grew up in a First Nation community in Canada’s Northwest Territories and in this interview she talks about using traditional materials for her cosmic drawings.

I consider my art to be “abstract.” Aboriginal people have used animal skins, bones, seeds, quills and rocks for decoration, and I figured it would fit in my artwork. I was given buttons made of caribou bones as a gift and I decided I should try to incorporate a solid piece of bone into one of my galaxy pictures. Viewers loved that. I spent last December in Salt Spring Island B.C. One of my friends asked if I was going to incorporate B.C. rocks or shells in my work and I thought that was a great idea. I started receiving rocks and shells as inspiration. Just recently a Gwich’in friend gave me willow seeds to use. The Gwich’in people used to use willow seeds to decorate their clothing.

(via brain pickings)

How Much Better Does an Expensive Piano Sound Than a Cheap One?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

YouTuber Lord Vinheteiro recently played the same pair of tunes on six different pianos, ranging from a $499 used upright to a $112,000 Steinway to a $2.5 million Steinway grand piano that’s tacky af. Which one sounds the best?

I’m not sure that you get the full effect and nuance of the super luxe pianos after the audio has passed through YouTube’s audio compression and whatever phone or computer speaker or headphones you’ve got going, but the more expensive pianos sound better than the lower-end ones for sure. I would have appreciated a medley at the end that repeatedly cycled through all six of the recordings to better hear the differences.

Yellowstone National Park’s Sound & Video Libraries Are Free for Anyone to Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

2018 Roadtrip

Yellowstone National Park maintains a collection of sounds and videos taken in the park that are in the public domain and free for anyone to use. The collection includes the sights and sounds of birds, geysers, bison, bubbling mud pots, fish, wolves, falling snow, storms, and all sorts of other ambient noises and videos.

Hand-Engraved Coin with a Beating Heart

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

Beating Heart Coin

Roman Butin is a Russian artist who modifies coins with elaborate hand-engraved designs of his own. His latest creation is a coin with a beating heart. Here is the tiny mechanism in action…you turn the gear at the bottom of the coin and the heart beats!

Wow. You can check out the heart coin, a Banksy coin, this trap coin, a golden bug coin with working wings, and more of his work on Instagram. Heads or Tales has replicas of a few of Butin’s creations for sale.

Yosemite’s Rainbow Waterfall

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

The light and the wind happened to be just right for Greg Harlow to catch this rainbow emanating from upper portion of Yosemite Falls. Beautiful. The 21-second time lapse version of the video makes the falls look like a rainbow flame:

It’s astounding enough that perfect curves of color appear in the sky after rainstorms, but could you imagine seeing a waterfall rainbow like this happen in real life? My head would have exploded. (via the kid should see this)

Woven Photo Collages

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2019

For her O.P.P. series, Heather Oelklaus weaves together strips of cut-up prints to form new scenes.

Heather Oelklaus

Heather Oelklaus

In the series O.P.P. (Other People’s Photography), hand woven silver gelatin and inkjet prints survey stereotypical and nostalgic notions. Found photographs from US Army wives’ gatherings and Hollywood film stills are woven together to reconstruct new narratives. The expressive gaze within these staged photographs breaks through the picture’s surface as if to confront the viewer. These sophisticated slices of history illustrate an era of inclusion and exclusion while leaving the viewer to compare present day relationships.

2001: A Space Odyssey, The Frank Poole Epilogue

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

From Steve Begg (who I would guess is this Steve Begg, who has done VFX on the recent Bond films) comes an epilogue of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scene picks up 203 years after the events of 2001, following Frank Poole’s body as it encounters a monolith.

Graffiti That Helps You See Through Walls

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

For some of his latest street art, Portuguese graffiti artist Vile has been creating optical illusions of his name “cut” into the walls of buildings.

Vile graffiti

That’s just spray paint he’s using…that effect is quite good, no? Here’s another one:

Vile graffiti

And here’s how that wall looked before:

Vile graffiti

You can see Vile’s most recent work on Instagram.

Do Not Erase: Mathematician’s Chalkboards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

Jessica Wynne has been taking photos of mathematicians’ blackboards for the past year or so, some of which were featured recently in the NY Times. I love the variety in density, style, color, and tidiness.

Jessica Wynne

Jessica Wynne

“I am also fascinated by the process of working on the chalkboard. Despite technological advances, and the creation of computers, this is how the masters choose to work.”

In their love of blackboards and chalk, mathematicians are among the last holdouts. In many fields of science and investigation, blackboards have been replaced with whiteboards or slide show presentations. But chalk is cheaper and biodegradable. It smells better than whiteboard markers and is easier to clean up, mathematicians say. It is also more fun to write with.

A book of Wynne’s chalkboard photos called Do Not Erase will be released next year.

The Delicate Microscopic Repair of a 112-Year-Old Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Watch as MoMA art conservator Diana Hartman repairs some weak spots of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s 1907 self-portrait. The painting is still on the artist’s original canvas stretchers, so Hartman can’t access the back of the canvas during the repair process. So she employs a tiny curved needle made for doing eye surgeries to gently darn with some linen thread.

The first thing I like to do when I sit down is just get my tools. No tools displayed on this tray were made specifically for conservation.

Watching someone tend to a treasured object with such devotion is quite relaxing, perhaps because it’s comforting to imagine ourselves being treated with equal concern by those around us. (via colossal)

Silence Is the Presence of Everything

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

This morning, instead of crawling straight from bed to desk and diving into the internet cesspool, I went for a walk. I went because I needed the exercise, because it was a nice sunny day out, because the changing leaves are super lovely right now. (Check out my Instagram story for some of what I saw along the way.) But I also wanted to listen to this episode of On Being with Gordon Hempton called Silence and the Presence of Everything. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who has a lot of interesting things to say about silence and natural sounds.

Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writings of John Muir, which — he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat.

It sounds paradoxical, but I wanted to listen to this podcast in a setting with natural sounds, rather than in my car or on a plane. I had my AirPods in because they don’t block all outside sound, so I could hear the crunch of the road beneath my shoes as I walked and listened. The nature and animal sounds in the episode sounded like they were actually coming from all around me. I paused the episode for a minute or two to listen to a burbling brook I passed along the way. The whole experience was super relaxing and informative.1

You can read more about Hempton and his efforts in preserving the world’s silence places on his website The Sound Tracker or in his book, One Square Inch of Silence. Outside magazine recently profiled Hempton, who, in cruel twist of fate, has suffered dramatic hearing loss in recent years.

The problem Hempton hopes to take on is gargantuan. To understand it, try a little experiment: when you reach the period at the end of this sentence, stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and listen.

What did you hear? The churn of the refrigerator? The racing hiss of passing traffic? Even if you’re sitting outside, chances are you heard the low hum of a plane passing overhead or an 18-wheeler’s air horn shrieking down a not-so-distant highway.

If you heard only the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees, you’re one of a lucky few. But it’s likely that quiet won’t last.

This short documentary, Sanctuaries of Silence, follows Hempton to some of the quietest places on Earth, including the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

I think what I like most about listening is that I disappear.

If you’d like to disappear for awhile but don’t have access to a quiet place, you should check out some of Hempton’s recordings on Spotify — I’m listening to Forest Rain right now.

Or try out the Sound Escapes podcast to check out some of his best natural soundscapes. (thx Meg, who sent along a link to the On Being episode after reading yesterday’s post on noise pollution)

  1. And it was another good example of the AirPods as an AR device.

Motivated Reasoning and Tribal Loyalty in Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

For years, researchers have identified a link between a person’s “moral foundations” and their political views. In a piece for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan summarized it like so:

According to the researchers who invented the quiz, the issues that most concern political liberals tend to fall under the category of “individualizing” moral foundations, which have more to do with personal standards: care versus harm and fairness versus cheating. Political conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more concerned about group-focused “binding” foundations: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and disgust versus purity. If loyalty is extremely important to you, the research suggests, you might care deeply about supporting the troops, and therefore you might be more likely to be politically conservative.

She then goes on to describe the results of a new study that suggest that maybe our morals are determined by our political affiliation and not the other way around.

In a series of analyses published recently in the American Journal of Political Science, the three researchers found that people’s moral codes don’t cause or predict their political ideology; instead, people’s ideology appears to predict their answers on the moral-foundations questionnaire. As Peter Hatemi, one of the study’s authors and a political-science professor at Pennsylvania State University, puts it: “We will switch our moral compass depending on how it fits with what we believe politically.”

This could explain how the Republicans’ opinion of Russia changed so quickly in the wake of allegations that Donald Trump colluded in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Republican flip-flop on climate change, the evangelical Christian embrace of the most immoral President in recent history, and the leftward swing of many Democratic Party members, following their most visible politicians (Bernie, Warren, AOC) & most vocal supporters away from Obama’s centrism.

The Birth of American Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

I’ve been slowly making my way through various aspects of the NY Times’ ambitious 1619 Project spearheaded up by Nikole Hannah-Jones, including the excellent podcast. In the third episode of the podcast (and in a related article), Times critic Wesley Morris shares an impressionistic and informative timeline of how black music became the sound of America, from the minstrel performers of the 1800s to Motown.

Blackness was on the move before my ancestors were legally free to be. It was on the move before my ancestors even knew what they had. It was on the move because white people were moving it. And the white person most frequently identified as its prime mover is Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a New Yorker who performed as T.D. Rice and, in acclaim, was lusted after as “Daddy” Rice, “the negro par excellence.” Rice was a minstrel, which by the 1830s, when his stardom was at its most refulgent, meant he painted his face with burned cork to approximate those of the enslaved black people he was imitating.

In 1830, Rice was a nobody actor in his early 20s, touring with a theater company in Cincinnati (or Louisville; historians don’t know for sure), when, the story goes, he saw a decrepit, possibly disfigured old black man singing while grooming a horse on the property of a white man whose last name was Crow. On went the light bulb. Rice took in the tune and the movements but failed, it seems, to take down the old man’s name. So in his song based on the horse groomer, he renamed him: “Weel about and turn about jus so/Ebery time I weel about, I jump Jim Crow.” And just like that, Rice had invented the fellow who would become the mascot for two centuries of legalized racism.

That night, Rice made himself up to look like the old black man — or something like him, because Rice’s get-up most likely concocted skin blacker than any actual black person’s and a gibberish dialect meant to imply black speech. Rice had turned the old man’s melody and hobbled movements into a song-and-dance routine that no white audience had ever experienced before. What they saw caused a permanent sensation. He reportedly won 20 encores.

Rice repeated the act again, night after night, for audiences so profoundly rocked that he was frequently mobbed during performances. Across the Ohio River, not an arduous distance from all that adulation, was Boone County, Ky., whose population would have been largely enslaved Africans. As they were being worked, sometimes to death, white people, desperate with anticipation, were paying to see them depicted at play.

Morris’s article is excellent and covers more ground than the podcast, but the music clips make the podcast episode a must-listen.

Six Maps that Reveal America’s Expanding Racial Diversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Using 2020 census estimates, a series of six maps and the accompanying article from William H. Frey at the Brookings Institution show how the racial makeup on the United States is expected to have changed since the last census in 2010.

Map Census 2020

Hispanics and Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial minority groups nationally, increasing by 18.6% and 27.4%, respectively, from 2010 to 2018. There is also a growing dispersion of both groups to new destinations, which tend to lie further afield than the familiar large metro areas.

In 1990, 39% of all U.S. Hispanics resided in just four metro areas: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago. In 2018, 39% of U.S. Hispanics resided in seven metro areas, with Houston, Riverside, Calif., and Dallas added to the list (and each eclipsing Chicago in size). And beyond these, Hispanic growth is high in areas with smaller Hispanic settlements in all parts of the country.

Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

From filmmaker David Freid, Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen is a short film about Longyearbyen, Norway, the one of the northernmost towns in the world. The town of about 2100 residents is situated on the Svalbard archipelago and is the home of the Global Seed Vault. Freid went to investigate the rumor that no one is allowed to die in Longyearbyen and discovered that if climate change results in the permafrost melting in places like this, diseases from long ago may be released back into the world.

But for more than 70 years, not a single person has been buried in Longyearbyen. That’s due to the region’s year-round sub-zero temperatures: Bodies don’t decompose, but are preserved, as if mummified, in the permafrost. Should anyone die there, the government of Svalbard requires that the body is flown or shipped to mainland Norway to be interred.

See also A Trip to the Northernmost Town on Earth.

Drag Performer Jaremi Carey Cosplays New Harry Potter Character Each Day in October

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Jaremi Carey Potter

Jaremi Carey Potter

Jaremi Carey Potter

For his project 31 Days of Wizardry, Jaremi Carey has been dressing up as a different Harry Potter character each day in October and posting the results to his Instagram. These are great. Strong Cindy Sherman vibes when you view them all together. And his Dobby! He’s only done one of the main characters so far though (Hermione on polyjuice)…perhaps he’s saving Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, and Voldemort for the final days?

Carey previously did a similar 365 Days of Drag project in 2016. (via @rel_games)

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Best Books 21st Guardian

The Guardian recently compiled a list of the best books of the century (with a British bent). Here are a few of the picks that caught my eye:

87. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood — “This may not be the only account of living in a religious household in the American midwest (in her youth, the author joined a group called God’s Gang, where they spoke in tongues), but it is surely the funniest. The author started out as the “poet laureate of Twitter”; her language is brilliant, and she has a completely original mind.”

82. Coraline by Neil Gaiman — “From the Sandman comics to his fantasy epic American Gods to Twitter, Gaiman towers over the world of books. But this perfectly achieved children’s novella, in which a plucky young girl enters a parallel world where her “Other Mother” is a spooky copy of her real-life mum, with buttons for eyes, might be his finest hour: a properly scary modern myth which cuts right to the heart of childhood fears and desires.”

78. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin — “Jemisin became the first African American author to win the best novel category at the Hugo awards for her first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. In her intricate and richly imagined far future universe, the world is ending, ripped apart by relentless earthquakes and volcanoes. Against this apocalyptic backdrop she explores urgent questions of power and enslavement through the eyes of three women. ‘As this genre finally acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalised matter and that all of us have a future,’ she said in her acceptance speech, ‘so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)’”

71. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware — “At the time when Ware won the Guardian first book award, no graphic novel had previously won a generalist literary prize. Emotional and artistic complexity are perfectly poised in this account of a listless 36-year-old office dogsbody who is thrown into an existential crisis by an encounter with his estranged dad.”

42. Moneyball by Michael Lewis — “The author of The Big Short has made a career out of rendering the most opaque subject matter entertaining and comprehensible: Moneyball tells the story of how geeks outsmarted jocks to revolutionise baseball using maths. But you do not need to know or care about the sport, because — as with all Lewis’s best writing — it’s all about how the story is told.”

32. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee — “‘Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.’ In adapting the opening lines of Anna Karenina, Mukherjee sets out the breathtaking ambition of his study of cancer: not only to share the knowledge of a practising oncologist but to take his readers on a literary and historical journey.”

13. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich — “In this modern classic of reportage, Ehrenreich chronicled her attempts to live on the minimum wage in three American states. Working first as a waitress, then a cleaner and a nursing home aide, she still struggled to survive, and the stories of her co-workers are shocking. The US economy as she experienced it is full of routine humiliation, with demands as high as the rewards are low. Two decades on, this still reads like urgent news.”

11. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante — “Powerfully intimate and unashamedly domestic, the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series established her as a literary sensation. This and the three novels that followed documented the ways misogyny and violence could determine lives, as well as the history of Italy in the late 20th century.”

Ok, that ended up being more than a few, but there’s so much good stuff on that list! You’ll have to click through to see the #1 choice but needless to say, I was pleased.