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Hear Beowulf & Sir Gawain and the Green Knight read in the original Old and Middle English

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2018

In this short video, MIT literature professor Arthur Bahr reads brief selections from Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in their original languages, respectively Old English and Middle English. You’ll notice that they sound almost completely like foreign languages. From Open Culture:

After the Viking and Norman invasions, Old English became “the third language in its own country,” notes Luke Mastin at his History of English site. More spoken than written, it “effectively sank to the level of a patois or creole,” with several distinct regional variants. English seemed at one time “in dire peril” of dying out but “showed its resilience once again, and, two hundred years after the Norman Conquest, it was English not French that emerged as the language of England,” though it remained a diffuse collection of dialects.

The entire page on Middle English at the History of English site — “how English went from an obscure German dialect to a global language” — is worth a read.

See also Shakespeare in its original pronunciation.

This bridge cuts sea ice into tidy rectangles

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2018

Bridge Ice Cutter

The 8-mile-long Confederation Bridge links Prince Edward Island with mainland Canada. In the winter, when the water in the strait freezes, the wind and tides can push the floating ice against the bridge, causing the evenly spaced piers to slice the ice into remarkably uniform rectangular chunks.

To put the rectangles into perspective, the bridge piers that are designed to break up the ice floes are 250 meters apart. That distance would also represent the width of each of the rectangles. The length of the blocks varies but, on average, the length is about 75 per cent greater than the width.

It is likely that the Confederation Bridge will have lots of slicing to do this winter. Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesman, Steve Hachey said ice conditions started developing in the Northumberland Strait earlier than normal this year, resulting in a current thickness of up to 30 centimeters.

The bridge was specifically designed to withstand these sorts of pressures from the ice. Photo by Paul Tymstra.

Update: Courtesy of EOS LandViewer, a recent satellite image shows the bridge’s ice slicing in action:

Confed Bridge Sat

(via @stepan_klimov)

Privacy at the margins

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 07, 2018

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Privacy and privilege go hand in hand. This collection of scholarly articles in The International Journal of Communication edited by Dr. Alice Marwick and danah boyd takes us to Appalachia, India, Azerbaijan, and among Aboriginal communities. The nine articles are a deep dive into surveillance, coercion, and consent among those typically marginalized.

For many people, privacy is not simply the ability to restrict access to information, but the ability to strategically control a social situation by influencing what information is available to others, how this information is interpreted, and how it will spread. Needless to say, networked technology complicates these dynamics, to the point where most people find themselves constantly negotiating between disclosure, concealment, and connection.

The stark reality is that achieving privacy is especially difficult for those who are marginalized in other areas of life. Parents argue that they have the right to surveil their children “for safety reasons.” Activists who challenge repressive regimes are regularly monitored by state actors. And poor people find themselves forced to provide information in return for basic services. Meanwhile, privacy is increasingly important as data-hungry algorithmic systems are introduced into every part of society, gobbling up data about people and their practices to feed decision-making systems in sectors as varied as criminal justice, advertising, transportation, and news delivery. The privilege to “opt out” of these data-oriented systems is increasingly unattainable.

Anthony McCall’s large-scale sculpture, cinema, drawing objects

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

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Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn is currently showing six large-scale pieces by local artist Anthony McCall. The main hall of the massive warehouse space is blacked out and filled with haze for the show of his Solid Light Works series, which he began work on in 1973. The pieces require thirty feet of clearance from the floor to ceiling for the vertical and horizontal cones of light.

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McCall regards these works as occupying a place somewhere between sculpture, cinema, and drawing: sculpture because the projected volumes must be occupied and explored by a moving spectator; cinema because these large-scale objects are not static, but structured to progressively shift and change over time; and drawing, because the genesis of each installation is a two-dimensional line-drawing.

Solid Light Works explore the intersections of light, movement, drawing, and space that form evanescent and ever changing three-dimensional forms that exist not only as “objects” in space but also as environments to be experienced.

In anticipation of the show’s closing, Pioneer Works will stay open all night on Saturday. I hope someone’s sending a street style photographer to capture the crowd.

Translating Homer in public

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 16, 2018

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I can’t claim to have finished Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey by Homer — epic poems are, well, epic — but I’m a huge fan of everything I’ve read, and especially Wilson’s Twitter feed, which is often devoted to explicating some small bit of Homeric text and comparing her approach to that of other translators.

Here, for example, she takes on the depiction of the Sirens. I’m going to pick and choose a few tweets, but you should read as much of the thread as you can.

This last observation prompted a haunting distillation by Lev Mirov of Odysseus’s journey and his encounter with the Sirens:

Back to Wilson, who translates the brutally short passage of the sirens this way:

She explains:

Translation is hard, but translation in public is harder and better. There’s a richness in the commentary, and also a reckoning with the accretion of meanings that have come down through past readings, that you don’t often get without diving into scholarly apparatus. It’s not just peeling back the plaster; it’s trying to understand the work that plaster did in holding the whole structure together. Just remarkable.

Update: Dan Chiasson wrote about Wilson’s use of Twitter for the New Yorker.

Tiny origami

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2018

Tiny Origami

Tiny Origami

Tiny Origami

Origami artist Ross Symons makes tiny origami creations and posts them to his Instagram account, White on Rice. The account became pretty popular and Symons was able to turn his hobby into his full-time job doing installations, exhibitions, and social media campaigns featuring origami.

Over the weekend, Symons’ art was featured on Noticing, kottke.org’s free weekly newsletter. You can read the full issue here: Lobsters Considered, Superteens Against the Autocracy, The Mister Rogers Fan Club or subscribe here to have it land in your inbox each week.

12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2018

From Anil Dash, 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech.

1. Tech is not neutral. One of the most important things everybody should know about the apps and services they use is that the values of technology creators are deeply ingrained in every button, every link, and every glowing icon that we see. Choices that software developers make about design, technical architecture or business model can have profound impacts on our privacy, security and even civil rights as users. When software encourages us to take photos that are square instead of rectangular, or to put an always-on microphone in our living rooms, or to be reachable by our bosses at any moment, it changes our behaviors, and it changes our lives.

All of the changes in our lives that happen when we use new technologies do so according to the priorities and preferences of those who create those technologies.

“To share something is to risk losing it”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

Remember the Broccoli Tree and its eventual fate?

For the past few years, Patrik Svedberg has been taking photos of a beautiful Swedish tree he dubbed The Broccoli Tree. In a short time, the tree gained a healthy following on Instagram, becoming both a tourist attraction and an online celebrity of sorts. (I posted about tree two years ago.) Yesterday, Svedberg posted a sad update: someone had vandalized the tree by sawing through one of the limbs.

Very soon after, it was decided by some authority that the vandalism meant the entire tree had to come down. A work crew arrived and now it’s gone.

In a short video, John Green shares his perspective on the loss of the tree and the meaning of sharing with others in the age of social media.

To share something is to risk losing it, especially in a world where sharing occurs at tremendous scale and where everyone seems to want to be noticed, even if only for cutting down a beloved tree. […] And the truth is, if we horde and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we’re alone in the loss.

Frank Ocean interviews statistics rapper Timmy T

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

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Frank Ocean interviews Timothée Chalamet and it’s brilliant.

FO The time period of 20th Century Women seems close to Call Me By Your Name, that ’80s time period. Did you get into these past eras of fashion and shit when you were doing the film?

TC Absolutely. I’m a total “nostalgist” and Call Me By Your Name’s director, Luca, grew up in that time period. In fact, the book is set in ‘88 and he changed it to ‘83 because he said that was the year in your life you can hear music from. In the movie, there’s Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, or just the Bach or Beethoven—those are all songs from Luca’s youth, what it was like for him in Italy in the ’80s. Also, in 1988, the AIDS crisis had already hit and that was part of the reasoning for making [the film] a little bit earlier too, so it wasn’t as intense, and could be a little more utopic. What a tragedy for movies now that if you want to be contemporary, phones have to be involved, with texting and FaceTime. I don’t know if [the characters in] Call Me By Your Name would ever have that relationship if there was passive-aggressive commenting and “likes.” They actually had to talk, figure each other out, and struggle with their emotions.

Trailer for Wreck-It Ralph 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2018

The original Wreck-It Ralph came out in 2012 and was the first inkling of Disney Animation’s revival that has continued with Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana. In Wreck-It Ralph 2 (which is properly titled “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2”), the arcade gets an upgrade in the form of a modem, which gives Ralph and his pals access to the internet. And if you watch the trailer, the movie’s view of the internet is pretty dystopian (but sadly not all that inaccurate). They’re dumped into a a massive shopping mall where they’re constantly interrupted by the IRL equivalent of the chumbox, attend an eBay auction for bad cat-related art, and digitally overfeed a video game bunny until it explodes, perhaps a sly metaphor for how relying on digital treats such as likes or retweets for self-esteem is problematic.

But the movie looks fun! I guess? Like the internet! The internet is fun! I guess? Right? Hello…

Puzzle twins

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

Puzzle Twins

Puzzle Twins

Puzzle Twins

For her project entitled Within 15 Minutes, artist Alma Haser made identical jigsaw puzzles out of portraits she’d taken of identical twins and then swapped every other piece when putting them together, creating these serendipitously fragmented portraits. She said of her first attempt last year:

So today for no apparent reason I thought I’d test out a crazy idea I had. For the project I have been switching just the faces of the identical twins, but today I decided to see what it would look like to swap every other pieces with reach other. Completely entwining the beautiful @being__her sisters. And wow, what an effect! It really make you double take at their faces, trying to decipher one for the other.

You can follow Haser’s work, including the twin puzzles, on Instagram.

A Winter Olympics wrap-up written with a predictive text keyboard

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2018

The folks at Botnik used their Predictive Writer app to write an article about the 5 Most Memorable Moments of Pyeongchang 2018.

Botnik 2018 Olympics

People couldn’t stop talking about all the flawless jewels scattered on the ground: Whose jewels were they? Did they want them back? Why did the sound of Bob Costas turn them to ashes?

The world watched in shock as a nation called the Horror Zone swept every single event: It was tense as they too advantage of sports to win medals. The world squandered the chance to capture the unstoppable Ice Elvis who stole all the wine from the Olympic village. The result was a reminder that nothing is ever guaranteed in winter.

The Predictive Writer is a word processor that offers word suggestions based on any text you give it. You can try it out yourself to write Radiohead lyrics, Seinfeld dialogue, John Keats poetry, or upload your own text. (via imperica)

A Selfish Argument for Making the World a Better Place

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

This video, a collaboration between Kurzgesagt and economist Max Roser, makes a compelling argument for empowering the maximum amount of people around the world to become happier/wealthier/more free, so that everyone can all work on solutions to problems that affect everyone. The main gist is that while pre-industrial conditions favored zero-sum thinking, the Industrial & Green Revolutions and global telecommunications have created a situation in which non-zero-sum thinking is favored.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Lost Einsteins due to inequality in America.

I encourage you to take a moment to absorb the size of these gaps. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, Southerners, and low- and middle-income children are far less likely to grow up to become patent holders and inventors. Our society appears to be missing out on most potential inventors from these groups. And these groups together make up most of the American population.

The key phrase in the research paper is “lost Einsteins.” It’s a reference to people who could “have had highly impactful innovations” if they had been able to pursue the opportunities they deserved, the authors write. Nobody knows precisely who the lost Einsteins are, of course, but there is little doubt that they exist.

In addition to the ethical and moral arguments for improving the lives of all humans, the non-zero-sumness of today’s world makes a powerful economic argument for doing so as well. How to accomplish this is left as an exercise to the reader…

After 40 years, an Indian architect wins the Pritzker

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018

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Balkrishna Doshi is the first-ever Indian to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The 90-year-old modernist architect studied under Le Corbusier in Paris and later worked together in India, and collaborated with Louis Kahn, but Doshi was the one to adapt their work to the culture, climate, and topography in India.

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Doshi was a vital, though largely unheralded partner in creating India’s meccas for modern architecture. He translated Le Corbusier and Khan’s plans to Indian construction standards and found ways to weave pre-fab materials with artisan-made elements.

“A lot has been said and continues to be said about the shadow of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn on the city and the country at large, but it was Doshi who grounded their ideas in the soil of India and turned them into something entirely new,” explains Avinash Rajagopal, editor-in-chief of Metropolis magazine.

Hoshi Ryoka, one of the world’s oldest hotels

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2018

From visual journalist Fritz Schumann, a short, poignant documentary on Hoshi Ryokan, a Japanese hotel built on a hot springs that has been run by the same family for 1300 years, making it the oldest running family business in the world.

This ryokan (a traditional japanese style hotel) was built over a natural hot spring in Awazu in central Japan in the year 718. Until 2011, it held the record for being the oldest hotel in the world.

Houshi Ryokan has been visited by the Japanese Imperial Family and countless great artists over the centuries. Its buildings were destroyed by natural disasters many times, but the family has always rebuilt. The garden as well as some parts of the hotel are over 400 years old.

The ryokan is now on its 46th generation of ownership. As you might expect, the changing role of the family in Japanese society has put the future succession of the hotel to the next generation in jeopardy. (via open culture)

A tip for a better media diet: delay reading the news

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2018

In The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes about the benefits of time-shifting your news reading.

One excellent way to stay calm but well-informed, I’ve found, is to consume the news a day or three later than everyone else. Print is one way to do this. But it works online, too: more and more, I find myself promiscuously cruising the web, saving umpteen articles in a “read later” app (in my case Evernote, though you could use your browser’s bookmarks). By the time I read them, the time filter has worked its magic: a small proportion of them stand out as truly compelling.

A new car loses about 10% of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot; most news depreciates a lot faster than that. Humans are curious, hard-wired to seek out new information on a continuous basis. But not everything we haven’t seen before is worth our attention. As Burkeman says, a great way to determine if something is intrinsically interesting or worthwhile apart from its novelty is to set it aside for awhile.

My process for gathering links and information for kottke.org is pretty much what Burkeman outlines in the article: when I see something that looks interesting, I file it away and revisit it later. I don’t even leave it that long sometimes…even a few hours works wonders. Most of the links I throw out, some because they weren’t as interesting as I’d hoped from reading a headline or pull quote but more often because they won’t be interesting after a day or two passes. I’m proud that you can go back weeks, months, years, and (more rarely) decades into the kottke.org archives and still find things worth your time.

A game of tag that’s been going for 20+ years

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2018

A group of high school friends has been playing an elaborate game of tag since reconnecting at a reunion almost 30 years ago. A few years ago, one of the players wrote a piece for The Guardian about the game.

Since we had busy lives and lived hundreds of miles apart, we agreed on three rules. First, we would play it only in February each year; second, you were not allowed immediately to tag back the person who had tagged you; and finally, you had to declare to the group that you were “it”.

Now we are grown men, we don’t run like Usain Bolt, so subterfuge and collusion have become our weapons. Eleven months of the year are spent planning. Collaborating with a friend is where the fun is — we can spend hours discussing approaches.

I was tagged spectacularly a few years back when a friend popped round to show me his new car. As I approached it, Sean sprang out of the boot where he’d been hiding and tagged me. He’d flown 800 miles from Seattle to San Francisco just to stop being “it” — to shrug off the “mantle of shame”, as we call it. My wife was so startled she fell and injured her knee, but she wasn’t angry; she was pleased to see Sean.

Hollywood, who knows a winning idea when they see one,1 has now based a movie on the game. Tag stars Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, and Rashida Jones; here’s the trailer:

And if you think some of the tagging scenarios in the movie are too good to be true (a funeral, really?)…yeah, no:

Some things we did early on we wouldn’t do now — like when Mike sneaked into Brian’s house at night, crept into the bedroom and woke him up to tag him, surprising the life out of him and his girlfriend.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected tags was during Mike’s father’s funeral. During the service, he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find Joe mouthing, “You’re it.” Afterwards, he said his father would have approved, because he found our game hilarious.

A decades-long game of adult tag is exactly the type of thing I love reading about but would never participate in. I am a huge stick-in-the-mud, but I’ve made my peace with it.

  1. This clearly isn’t true, but roll with me here.

A close reading of Miyazaki’s sound design in The Wind Rises

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 12, 2018

I recently rewatched a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, although “watched” is a bit of a misnomer. I was playing them in the background while I was working, or reading, or trying to sleep, so really I was re-listening to them, and not especially closely.

This almost feels like a sin for movies as beautiful as these, but it did help me notice something. Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind looks different from Princess Mononoke or The Wind Rises, sure; however, it sounds way different. The music, the foley effects, the subtler cues, the sheer sound density are completely different from one end of the career to another.

This made me wonder whether somebody had charted this transformation. I didn’t quite find that, but I did find an outstanding series of blog posts specifically on the sound design in The Wind Rises, which stands in nicely. It’s not well copyedited, but it’s attentive and insightful. A few samples:

Jiro enters his airplane, adjusts his aviator gloves and starts the artisanal machine. By now we have noticed the sound effects of the valves and exhaust pipes made of human mouth sounds and with vocalisations. The first engine starts and it’s clear that human voice is used to portray this activity. But once the propeller activates a low rumble sound effects is introduced, and a sound effect of a servo ascending is applied to the airplane rising, triggered by Jiro’s pulling the lever, and it’s in harmony with the music score. One occurrence with the sound that emphasises the oneiric dimension of this scene is the ‘dreamy’ quality of the reverb applied on the last blow of the machine lifting before it goes crossing the skies [00:02:03].

Here’s a clip a little later in the sequence — I’d never recognized that the dream engine sounds were being made by human mouths, but once you hear it, it’s perfect.

Or consider the earthquake, detail by detail:

It is now that we are in the presence of the horror lived in this earthquake and sound plays such a big role with all its brutality. Different to the traditional approach of western film, the main elements heard are a composition of :

  • horrified human screams on a higher-pitch range,
  • medium-low pitch throat growls and groans like coming from a big beast,
  • that moves upwards in pitch as the image from the houses undulates from a farther plane to a closer one.
  • an earthy impact stinger

These elements are introduced a couple of frames before we see the houses being ripped apart.

In the next scene the audience is shown, through close-ups, how the ground is animated in brutal waves breaking and disrupting the order of all man-made constructions. We no longer hear the horrifying screams and the sound designer paints the scene with sound of the ground disrupting, by utilising rumbles and earth debris. The sounds here are in the same universe as those indicated on Jiro’s first dream - choir-like sounds mimicking up and down movements, in which the upwards vocalisations are like rising stingers.

It really helped me appreciate these movies again, as sonic masterpieces.

Max Richter’s Sleep, an 8-hour album designed to be listened to while you sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2018

Composer Max Richter released Sleep in 2015, but it only recently became available on streaming platforms: Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Tidal. The album is 8 hours and 24 minutes long and was designed by Richter as a sleep aid/accompaniment. The composer worked with neuroscientist David Eagleman to align the music with the brain & body’s natural sleep rhythms.

A snack-sized version of Sleep is also available: From Sleep, which clocks in at a mere hour long.

Spike Jonze is very good at making ads

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

Huh, weird. Spike Jonze made a video of me in my living room last night.

I’m fully here for FKA Twigs being the face of dancing your way out of depression.

Errol Morris on Stephen Hawking, “a king of infinite space”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

From an interview with Errol Morris on his friend Stephen Hawking (about whom he made a documentary), Morris shares why Hawking’s A Brief History of Time resonated with so many people beyond the scientific community.

I read the book on the plane on the way over. I was surprised, because I had been told that it was a book about theoretical physics and cosmology. But it was something much more than that. It was a work of literature.

He had done something strange and unusual and powerful. He had described himself and his own situation in terms of his science. Hawking’s greatest discovery — Hawking Radiation — was, in its own way, a tour de force. He was combining elements from general relativity, from quantum mechanics, and from thermodynamics in a new way. There’s something extraordinary about it, but what was most extraordinary about it is that here you have this entity, a black hole, from which nothing can escape. The gravitational field is so strong, surrounded by an event horizon. Nothing can escape from the black hole. Nothing inside that event horizon can get out.

What did Hawking show? Hawking showed that black holes are not entirely black. Radiation can escape from a black hole. He showed the mechanism through which this could occur.

At the same time, he’s telling you that he’s been condemned to this chair, to motor neuron disease, to ALS, and is really unable to talk. He’s lost his ability to speak, and now has to use a computer device, a clicker, a screen with a built-in dictionary and cursor. Despite the disease, he’s not trapped inside of himself. He’s able to communicate. He would always cite the famous line from Hamlet, “Bounded …”

“… in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.”

The whole thing is well worth a read. Like this bit about Hawking’s voice double:

Q: What was the process of working on the film with him like? Not all of those passages are from the book. Were you sending him questions?

A: Yes. He was writing answers, and some of the material was taken from lectures that he had given. Some of it was written for the film. I called him the first nontalking talking head. It became pretty clear that you had to assemble a dictionary of Hawking shots, but there’s no point in interviewing him for those, because it’s not synced. It’s a voice synthesizer. He gave us the voice synthesizer so we could just assemble his voice in the office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he insisted on calling “the pseudo-Cambridge.” There’s nothing like this project.

Q: Wait. He sent you the synthesizer so he could send you an answer and then you could feed it through the synthesizer to get the sound of his voice delivering the answer?

A: That’s correct.

Van Morrison and the Boston counterculture in 1968

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018

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Van Morrison wrote his spare, stringed magnum opus Astral Weeks during his time among the late 60s LSD-fueled counterculture in Boston. Ryan H. Walsh’s new book Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 covers the nine months Morrison spent in Cambridge, as well as a cast of characters both known and not. Among those orbiting Morrison were commune/cult leader Mel Lyman, members of the Velvet Underground, who played the Boston Tea Party club 15 times that year, and Carly Simon’s younger brother, Peter.

The common thread among the myriad personalities and communities profiled by Walsh is a yearning for transcendence and rebirth. These are also the central themes of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Morrison’s route to the spiritual plane was through music, not drugs. (A notorious drunk during his time in Boston, he is said to have eschewed dope after “burning [his] brain on hash” when he was younger.) The singer seems to have been guided by his subconscious in creating “Astral Weeks.” Some of the songs emerged from dreams and reveries. Morrison was a student of the occult who believed in automatic writing.

From stories of gigs on Cape Cod where Morrison and his band improvised what became “Moondance,” to him quietly crooning about Cambridgeport “like he’s talking about a misty hobbit village,” Walsh’s book seems to give context for Boston being more culturally significant within the late 60s era than most people give it credit for.

(Image of Van Morrison performing at Spring Sing on Boston Common in 1968 via WBUR.)

The Preciousness of Time, a tribute to Stephen Hawking

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2018

John Boswell, aka melodysheep, created this tribute video for Stephen Hawking using the late physicist’s words drawn from a variety of different speeches and interviews. It begins:

I am very aware of the preciousness of time. I was given two to three years to live. I faced a life unable to properly communicate. Fortunately my mind was unaffected. While all around me people have passed the day deep in conversation, I have often been transported afar, lost inside my own thoughts, trying to fathom how the universe works.

A week without plastic

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2018

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The Guardian asked four writers to try to minimize their use of plastic and keep a diary of how much they used over a week. To no one’s surprise, it’s difficult to avoid plastic altogether, but I suspect anyone would be stunned at just how much of it there is.

Before going to bed I wash my face with micellar water (which comes in a plastic bottle), use an interdental tooth brush (plastic), and take out my monthly contacts (plastic). I’ve barely done anything today, but the pile in the corner of the kitchen is getting bigger. On day two, the plastic onslaught continues; now I’m looking for it, I see it everywhere. Thanks to a cold, I go through multiple plastic-wrapped packets of tissues. A pizza delivery arrives with unnecessary plastic cutlery and a plastic-wrapped chocolate bar. I get my (acrylic) nails done, receive some clothes from Asos which come in plastic packaging, as does the ink for my printer…

Five days in and I’m amazed to realise how much I have accrued, from the Amazon delivery which arrives wrapped in bubbles and film, to the balloons we blow up for my flatmate’s birthday (latex, not plastic, but very much single use). The morning after her party, the flat is full of plastic cups, straws and bottles; soon thrown away in several plastic bin bags. I need some help; I speak to Andrew Pankhurst, a consumer campaigns manager from Zero Waste Scotland. He takes a look at my diary and has a few tips, from sharing printer cartridges with flatmates to putting a recycling bin in the bathroom. Could I possibly remove plastic from my everyday life?

This reminds me of something materials scientist Deb Chachra told me once: that as petroleum gets harder and harder for us to find economically, we might start to worry less about peak gasoline than we do about peak plastic.

The trailer for Won’t You Be My Neighbor

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2018

Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred Rogers will be out in theaters on June 8; the trailer above just dropped today.

Fred Rogers led a singular life. He was a puppeteer. A minister. A musician. An educator. A father, a husband, and a neighbor. Fred Rogers spent 50 years on children’s television beseeching us to love and to allow ourselves to be loved. With television as his pulpit, he helped transform the very concept of childhood. He used puppets and play to explore the most complicated issues of the day — race, disability, equality and tragedy. He spoke directly to children and they responded by forging a lifelong bond with him-by the millions. And yet today his impact is unclear. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? explores the question of whether or not we have lived up to Fred’s ideal. Are we all good neighbors?

You can watch a clip of the film here.

Whatever You Do, Don’t.

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2018

Scarfolk

Scarfolk is a dystopian satire site about an English town that’s stuck in a 1970s time loop.

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

Scarfolk

Scarfolk

Scarfolk

The slogans and advertisements the site produces are fantastic. It’s Nice That has a good overview of the some of the best pieces.

Physics giant Stephen Hawking dead at age 76

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

Lego Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, who uncovered the mysteries of black holes and with A Brief History of Time did more than anyone to popularize science since the late Carl Sagan, has died at his home in Cambridge at age 76. From an obituary in The Guardian:

Hawking once estimated he worked only 1,000 hours during his three undergraduate years at Oxford. In his finals, he came borderline between a first- and second-class degree. Convinced that he was seen as a difficult student, he told his viva examiners that if they gave him a first he would move to Cambridge to pursue his PhD. Award a second and he threatened to stay. They opted for a first.

Those who live in the shadow of death are often those who live most. For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease, and witnessing the death from leukaemia of a boy he knew in hospital, ignited a fresh sense of purpose. “Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research,” he once said. Embarking on his career in earnest, he declared: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

From Dennis Overbye’s obit in the NY Times:

He went on to become his generation’s leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can escape them.

That work led to a turning point in modern physics, playing itself out in the closing months of 1973 on the walls of his brain when Dr. Hawking set out to apply quantum theory, the weird laws that govern subatomic reality, to black holes. In a long and daunting calculation, Dr. Hawking discovered to his befuddlement that black holes — those mythological avatars of cosmic doom — were not really black at all. In fact, he found, they would eventually fizzle, leaking radiation and particles, and finally explode and disappear over the eons.

Nobody, including Dr. Hawking, believed it at first — that particles could be coming out of a black hole. “I wasn’t looking for them at all,” he recalled in an interview in 1978. “I merely tripped over them. I was rather annoyed.”

That calculation, in a thesis published in 1974 in the journal Nature under the title “Black Hole Explosions?,” is hailed by scientists as the first great landmark in the struggle to find a single theory of nature — to connect gravity and quantum mechanics, those warring descriptions of the large and the small, to explain a universe that seems stranger than anybody had thought.

The discovery of Hawking radiation, as it is known, turned black holes upside down. It transformed them from destroyers to creators — or at least to recyclers — and wrenched the dream of a final theory in a strange, new direction.

“You can ask what will happen to someone who jumps into a black hole,” Dr. Hawking said in an interview in 1978. “I certainly don’t think he will survive it.

“On the other hand,” he added, “if we send someone off to jump into a black hole, neither he nor his constituent atoms will come back, but his mass energy will come back. Maybe that applies to the whole universe.”

Dennis W. Sciama, a cosmologist and Dr. Hawking’s thesis adviser at Cambridge, called Hawking’s thesis in Nature “the most beautiful paper in the history of physics.”

Roger Penrose, the eminent mathematician and physicist who collaborated with Hawking on discoveries related to black holes and the genesis of the universe, wrote a lengthy scientific obituary for Hawking in The Guardian.

Following his work in this area, Hawking established a number of important results about black holes, such as an argument for its event horizon (its bounding surface) having to have the topology of a sphere. In collaboration with Carter and James Bardeen, in work published in 1973, he established some remarkable analogies between the behaviour of black holes and the basic laws of thermodynamics, where the horizon’s surface area and its surface gravity were shown to be analogous, respectively, to the thermodynamic quantities of entropy and temperature. It would be fair to say that in his highly active period leading up to this work, Hawking’s research in classical general relativity was the best anywhere in the world at that time.

And then there was that time Hawking threw a party for time travellers but didn’t advertise it until after the party was over (to ensure only visitors from the future would show up).

Tonight is perhaps a good night to watch Errol Morris’ superb documentary on Hawking (with a wonderful Philip Glass soundtrack) or build a version of Hawking out of Lego.

Unknown Soviet photographer left a huge cache of photos behind when she died

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2018

Masha Ivashintsova

Masha Ivashintsova

Masha Ivashintsova

Born in 1942, Masha Ivashintsova was a photographer based in Leningrad who, when she died in 2000, left over 30,000 photographs that she never showed to anyone, not even her family.

My mother, Masha Ivashintsova, was heavily engaged in the Leningrad poetic and photography underground movement of the 1960-80s. She was a lover of three geniuses of the time: Photographer Boris Smelov, Poet Viktor Krivulin and Linguist Melvar Melkumyan, who is also my father. Her love for these three men, who could not be more different, defined her life, consumed her fully, but also tore her apart. She sincerely believed that she paled next to them and consequently never showed her photography works, her diaries and poetry to anyone during her life.

After her death, her daughter and son-in-law found the photos in the attic and have built a website to showcase Ivashintsova’s work; it’s also being shared via Instagram.

20 years of gratitude and acknowledgements

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2018

I was on the road for an unexpectedly long time last week, so the post I wrote about kottke.org’s 20th anniversary was a little rushed and incomplete. I often call kottke.org my “one-man band” but it has been anything but. Today, I want to swing back around and thank all of the people and organizations who have supported me and the site with their encouragement, advice, criticism, well-wishes, hard work, and services.

I’ve thanked ‘em before and I’ll thank ‘em again: the support of kottke.org members has given this here webmaster new life. If you’d like to see kottke.org run another 20 years, the best way to do that is to sign up for a membership (it’ll only take you a minute).

I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of talented guest editors over the years, including Sarah Pavis, Greg Allen, Adam Lisagor, Choire Sicha (now the editor of the NY Times Style section — fancy!), Deron Bauman of the dearly missed Clusterflock, Susannah Breslin, Cliff Kuang, Ainsley Drew, Jenni Leder, Joel Turnipseed, Lance Arthur, Andy Baio, and Chrysanthe Tenentes. Chris Piascik has provided the occasional high quality illustration. Aaron Cohen guest edited for a couple of weeks and then, unbidden & for reasons unknown, posted 3-5 posts each week for several months. (Aaron still bugs me bi-monthly about doing a Kottke Konference and someday he might actually persuade me to do it.)

And a special mention goes to Tim Carmody, who has guest edited several times and is now writing the Noticing newsletter and posting on Fridays. He’s like my smarter and more verbose brother, and I love what he contributes to the site.

Back in 2005, when I quit my job to work on kottke.org full-time, I asked my readers to support me in a precursor to the membership program. Hundreds of them did just that, and I’m forever grateful.

To Greg Knauss, Anil Dash, Heather Armstrong, Michael Sippey, Mark Wilkie, David Jacobs, Meg Hourihan, Jake Dobkin, and Jonah Peretti: your advice and counsel over the years has been invaluable to me. Best informal board of advisors ever.

I need to thank Greg Knauss & Mark Wilkie again, along with Finn Smith, for helping me out with the heavy lifting server admin stuff. Mark in particular hosted kottke.org on his own personal server for many years in the early days.

Along with his counsel, I’d like to thank Jonah Peretti for providing me with a space at Eyebeam Labs in 2005 as a senior fellow and again at Buzzfeed as a design advisor and a desk-squatter for almost 10 years.

kottke.org is proudly hosted by Arcustech, which keeps the site running at top speed with no downtime. I dunno, maybe the site’s been down once, for like 2 seconds in the middle of the night, but I was sleeping and didn’t notice.

The fonts for the site are courtesy of Hoefler & Co. I’m proud to have been one of the first sites on the web to use their web fonts.

I’d like to thank my advertising partners throughout the years: Carbon Ads, We Work Remotely (which started out as the job board for 37signals), and especially The Deck.

And last but not least, I’d like to thank all of you for reading all these years, despite the repeated use of cliches like “last but not least”. I you all!

GIFs of ancient ruins restored

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

Parthenon Restore

From Expedia, a series of animated GIFs that show what ancient ruins from around the world would look like if they were restored. They did The Parthenon (above), Pompei’s Temple of Jupiter, Hadrian’s Wall, the Luxor Temple in Eqypt, and the Nohoch Mul Pyramid in Mexico:

Coba Restore

I climbed Nohoch Mul during a recent visit to Coba. (via colossal)

A high-resolution tour of the Moon from NASA

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2018

Using imagery and data that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has collected since 2009, NASA made this video tour of the Moon in 4K resolution. This looked incredible on my iMac screen.

As the visualization moves around the near side, far side, north and south poles, we highlight interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain.

See also The 100-megapixel Moon and A full rotation of the Moon.

The world’s smallest sushi is made from a single grain of rice

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2018

Tiny Sushi

At Sushiya no Nohachi in Tokyo, you can eat sushi that is made using a single grain of rice. The tiny sushi came about when a customer challenged the owner’s son to make the smallest possible sushi.

The most difficult tiny sushi are the ones with nori seaweed — those are the sea urchin and egg. For sea urchin, he has to put a small piece of nori around a grain of rice horizontally. For egg, he has to wrap the nori around the egg and grain of rice. It’s pretty impressive to witness.

You can see the small sushi being made in this video:

That said, when we asked how often they need to make a plate of small sushi, we were surprised.

“Just a few times a week and at most five times in a day.” Though when customers from overseas order, they tend to be extra enthusiastic about the tiny sushi.

He told us that one woman from Europe burst into tears and cried for an hour and a half after seeing the cute, little sushi.

(thx, jason)

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens advocates for the repeal of the Second Amendment.

That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

I completely agree with this. Weaponry deserves no special place in our country’s Bill of Rights and hasn’t for decades.

A recap and photos of National School Walkout Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

National Walkout Day

I didn’t get to follow National School Walkout Day as closely as I wanted to yesterday, but I just wanted to say on the morning after that I am very much in support of these kids, very proud of them, and deeply ashamed that ours is a country that has to regularly lean so hard on some of our most vulnerable members of society to get people and politicians to react to gross social injustice.

Buzzfeed has a great roundup of action from around the country, including 16-year-old Justin Blackman, who was the only one to walk out at his school…and ended up with millions of people supporting his efforts online. The Atlantic’s In Focus has gathered 35 photos of the walkout from around the nation.

An ignored 1968 US govt report: racism & inequality are drivers of urban violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2018

In response to unrest and riots in urban areas across the US in the mid-to-late 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson formed a commission to find out why it was happening. As Ariel Aberg-Riger’s illustrated piece relates, the resulting report, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (more commonly known as the Kerner Report), was blunt in its conclusions: “Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Kerner Report

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. endorsed the report, calling it “a physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life”. You can read the entire report here (or just the summary…it’s 13 pages long) and more on its impact (or lack thereof) at the NY Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Atlantic.

A great list of science books written by women

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2018

Scientist and educator Joanne Manaster has compiled a growing list of science books written by women (with a rule of one book per author). Some of the books and authors featured are:

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Biomimicry by Janine Benyus.

My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin.

The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin.

Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self by Jennifer Ouellette.

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova.

The Invention of Nature by
Andrea Wulf.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach.

The Human Age by Diane Ackerman.

Manaster is soliciting suggestions on Twitter for authors she may have missed.

The history of “I am,” “to be,” “it was”

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 02, 2018

Arika Okrent is one of my favorite writers. She’s a linguist who specializes in breaking down experientially rich but conceptually knotty problems in language for a lay audience. For the last few years she’s been writing for Mental Floss — see “The Evolution of ‘Two’,” this short essay on Plains Indian Sign Language, or especially her series of YouTube videos, of which the bit on irregular verbs up top is one.

Anyways, now she’s contributing to Curiosity, and one of her first essays is on the history and structure of that most irregular and polysemic of English verbs, “to be.

Most verbs stay basically the same in different grammatical roles. “Walk” looks like “walks” and “walked.” But the word “be” looks nothing like the word “am,” which looks nothing like the word “were.” This unusual circumstance came to be over thousands of years and can be traced back to an ancient ancestor of English.

That ancestor had three different verbs that gave rise to the different forms. “Am” and “is” go back to one of them. “Be,” “being,” and “been” go back to another verb meaning “to become” or “grow.” “Was” and “were” go back to yet another verb meaning “remain” or “stay.” Over thousands of years, these concepts and forms coalesced into a verb with a single identity, but hundreds of specific meanings.

Guest editing this week: Chrysanthe Tenentes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

[Hello gang. I am off this week and am very pleased that my pal Chrysanthe Tenentes will be taking over while I’m gone. We haven’t caught up in awhile, so I’m eager to learn what she’s thinking about these days and what she’s been working on. Welcome, Chrysanthe! And I’ll see the rest of you rascals next week. -jason]

Longtime reader, first time guest editor here…I’ve been mostly behind the scenes working on content strategy and other editorial projects the past few years but you may know me from Brooklyn Based, where I was co-founder, Foursquare, where I was an early hire, or The Shed story salon, which I run with friends in Brooklyn. I’m currently on the west coast, consulting for a few clients and about to launch LA IS OK. I’m on Twitter and most things as eqx1979, which is a reference to the alternative radio station I listened to in high school (heart you forever WEQX) and that Smashing Pumpkins song that I apparently liked enough to use in my ICQ screen name that then became all my screen names.

But enough about me, let’s get back to the links! I’m very much looking forward to spending the week with you all.

How Bill Russell stopped Charles Barkley from complaining about taxes

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

In a recent podcast interview with David Axelrod, former NBA star Charles Barkley talks about how NBA legend Bill Russell persuaded Barkley to stop publicly complaining about how much income tax he paid (transcription by Steven Greenhouse).

Bill Russell called me one time… He says, “Charles Barkley.” I said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Russell.”

“You grew up in Alabama. Right?” I said, “Yes, sir.”

He says, “Did you go to public school?” I said, “Yes, sir.”

He says, “Did the cops ever come to your neighborhood?” I said, “Yes sir.”

He said, “Any of the houses ever on fire and the firemen come?” I said, “Yes, sir.”

He said, “I don’t want to see your black ass on TV complaining about your taxes anymore.” I says, “What do you mean?”

He says, “So now that you got money you don’t want to help other people out, but when you were poor, other people took care of you.” And I says, “You know what, Mr. Russell, you will never hear me complain about my taxes again.”

And it was a very interesting lesson for me, because I do think rich people should pay more taxes. I’m blessed to be one of them, and we should pay more in taxes. I learned my lesson. I never complain about taxes.

I think Bill Russell needs to make a few phone calls to Congress…

A piece only a Vermonter could write

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

A guide to the proper usage of the word “dank.”

The protean adjective (or adverb if you want to slink dankly along) is now used for so much more than to merely describe things that are “unpleasantly moist.” In modern usage, dank can be used to pinpoint particular qualities in marijuana, beer, and internet humor, or as a general term of praise. If that sounds confusing, it can be.

Remembering the Thomas Guide

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

thomas-guide-history.png

For anyone who loves maps, history, or the history of maps, Airtalk did a segment this week on the beloved Thomas Guide.

During the year I spent in LA in 2004, I have distinct memories of frantically flipping from page to page in the Thomas Guide as co-pilot. You had to memorize the page numbers of the areas you frequented because they were not always in order (a north/south jump would sometimes take you thirty pages off). After a few months of this, we had pages fall out of the spiral-bound guide that we were always shoving back in the book. It was really the only way to navigate the maze of sprawl here other than printing out turn-by-turn directions from Mapquest (which we also did).

An AI paints nightmarishly surreal nude paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2018

AI Nudes

AI Nudes

Titian on shrooms? Francis Bacon turned up to 11? Picasso++? Dali, um, well, Dali would probably come up with something like this tbh. Robbie Barrat is a machine learning researcher at Stanford who’s using an AI program to generate nude portraits (more, more, and more).

Usually the machine just paints people as blobs of flesh with tendrils and limbs randomly growing out — I think it’s really surreal. I wonder if that’s how machines see us…

(via boing boing)

Gorgeous 8K video of the aurora borealis dancing in the skies during a lunar eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2018

8K resolution. Time lapse. 360º view. Aurora borealis. Lunar eclipse. I’m not really sure how you could pack much more into this video. Probably best experienced with some sort of VR rig, but for those of us without access to such a thing, watching it several times on a large screen while dragging the view around is a more than adequate substitute. If seeing the aurora borealis in person wasn’t already on your bucket list, it is now. Dang. (via the kid should see this)

One Hour One Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2018

Jason Rohrer, one of the most well-regarded indie video game makers out there (he made Passage, which is incredibly poignant for a video game that lasts only 5 minutes), has just released his latest game, One Hour One Life. Rohrer bills the game as “a multiplayer survival game of parenting and civilization building”. Here’s the trailer:

This game is about playing one small part in a much larger story. You only live an hour, but time and space in this game is infinite. You can only do so much in one lifetime, but the tech tree in this game will take hundreds of generations to fully explore. This game is also about family trees. Having a mother who takes care of you as a baby, and hopefully taking care of a baby yourself later in life. And your mother is another player. And your baby is another player. Building something to use in your lifetime, but inevitably realizing that, in the end, what you build is not for YOU, but for your children and all the countless others that will come after you. Proudly using your grandfather’s ax, and then passing it on to your own grandchild as the end of your life nears.

And looking at each life as a unique story. I was this kid born in this situation, but I eventually grew up. I built a bakery near the wheat fields. Over time, I watched my grandparents and parents grow old and die. I had some kids of my own along the way, but they are grown now… and look at my character now! She’s an old woman. What a life passed by in this little hour of mine. After I die, this life will be over and gone forever. I can be born again, but I can never live this unique story again. Everything’s changing. I’ll be born as a different person in a different place and different time, with another unique story to experience in the next hour…

That sounds kind of amazing, like a cross between Passage and something like Spore or Everything. And dare I say it’s a little Game Neverending-ish as well?

And check out the “thinking behind One Hour One Life” section at the bottom of the home page. It includes links to videos on the meaning of human life, Milton Friedman’s views on market capitalism (a riff on I, Pencil), and the Primitive Technology guy. (via andy)

Mister Rogers learns to breakdance and moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2018

In this clip from an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, breakdancer Jermaine Vaughn shows Mister Rogers and his television neighbors a few moves, including some popping and locking and the moonwalk.

That guy is game for anything, even if it makes him look dorky…probably especially if it makes him look dorky. Rogers knew the value of not letting what others might think about you get in the way of your curiosity or a new experience.

Also, DJs and producers take note: his lines “like there’s a wave going the whole way through your body” and “then make it come back, huh” are ripe for sampling.

Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave by Jessica Hische

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2018

Tomorrow Ill Be Brave

Illustrator Jessica Hische (who did the typeface for Moonrise Kingdom, among many other wonderful things) has written and illustrated a children’s book called Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave.

Lyrically written and beautifully illustrated by award-winning lettering artist Jessica Hische, this book takes readers on a fantastic journey that encourages them to be adventurous, strong, smart, curious, creative, confident, and brave — reassuring them that if they haven’t been able to be all or any of those things today, there is always tomorrow, which is full of endless opportunities.

You can see some spreads from the book on Hische’s site.

A comparison of the sizes of various microorganisms, cells, and viruses

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2018

Microorganisms are so small compared to humans that you might be tempted to think that they’re all about the same size. As this video shows, that is not at all the case. The rinovirus and polio virus are 0.03 micrometers (μm) wide, a red blood cell is 8 μm, a neuron 100 μm, and a frog’s egg 1 mm. That’s a span of 5 orders of magnitude, about the same difference as the height of a human to the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Watching the animation, you might have noticed the T4 bacteriophage, which looks like a cross between the aliens in Arrival and a lunar lander. Can’t be real, right? Bacteriophages are really real and terrifying…if you happen to be a bacteria. Bacteriophages attack by attaching themselves to bacteria, piercing their outer membranes, and then pumping them full of bacteriophage DNA. The phage replicates inside of the bacteria until the bacteria bursts and little baby bacteriophages are exploded out all over the place, ready to attack their own bacteria.

How to get yourself out of a funk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2018

On Tuesday, I woke up feeling a bit tired, uninspired, and just generally not in the mood to tackle my to-do list for the day. I understand myself well enough by now to know how to react to this situation (most of the time) but was curious about how other people deal with such episodes.1 So I asked on Twitter: “What do you do to get yourself moving when this happens to you?” I got tons of interesting responses, which I’ve organized into some broader categories in the hope that they’ll help someone out in the future.

Please note: the activities on this list are intended for those who need a little kick in the pants every once in awhile to get going. I am not a doctor or therapist, but if you feel listless and unmotivated on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor or find a therapist or talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Depression and anxiety are serious and treatable medical conditions that can’t be addressed just by taking a walk in the woods or buying a new watch.

Exercise. Take a run. Go to yoga. Walk around the block…or wander around the city for an hour. Hop on a bike. Meet a friend for a class at the gym. Lift weights. Tons of research has been done on the mental health benefits of exercise. To quote one paper: “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”

Friends and family. Arrange to spend some time with someone you care about and who knows you well enough to understand how and why you’re feeling this way. Texting is cool, but there’s no substitute for a real-life hang. FaceTime or phone calls can help too.

Get out in nature. If you can, head to the ocean, the forest, the mountains, the lake. You don’t even need to run or walk or bike or kayak, just sit and commune with the natural world. The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”, which has been shown to lower stress levels, blood pressure, and even blood glucose levels.

Pets. I was going to group this under “friends and family”, but so many people specifically mentioned hang time with animals that I broke it out separately. Take the dog for a walk, cozy up with your cat on the couch (if your cat allows such behavior), or play with your snake if that’s your thing. Don’t have a pet? Head to the dog park, borrow a friend’s pooch, or ask a friend if you can join them on their evening dog walk.

Press the reset button. Tackling the day’s activities when you’re down can feel like walking straight into a stiff wind. Doing something a bit different with your day can reset your mood and brain into a better mode. Take a different route to work. Try a new coffee spot. If you listen to NPR in the morning, switch to music. If you usually listen to music, try some silence. Take a cold shower…or a long hot one. Scream into a pillow.

Think small. If your lack of motivation stems from a lengthy to-do list, tackle the easiest items on the list first. Or break down some of the bigger to-dos into smaller items and do those. The idea is to score some easy wins and build momentum for the rest of your day.

Treat yourself. If you can, take the morning off or even the whole day. Go see a movie. Don’t eat lunch at your desk; pick a favorite spot and dine out. Make yourself a healthy breakfast. Or an unhealthy one! Buy yourself that breakfast pastry you normally abstain from. Play a game on your phone. Order dessert. Buy yourself something you’ve been wanting that you don’t really need. Note: Use this option sparingly and watch out for unintended effects. Treating yourself to a new coat or gadget every once in awhile is fine, but retail therapy can quickly turn into financial problems.2

Gratitude. To quote a line from Hamilton, look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now. As photographer Clayton Cubitt put it: “I think back to my struggles clawing my way out of the trailer park, the violence I survived, all the shitty jobs I had to work and the shitty bosses I had to tolerate, the extra 15 years it took me, and I find the renewable energy of gratitude for my survival.” Recalling the specific ways in which things could be worse and remembering how lucky you are can be extremely helpful.

Help others. Sometimes the best thing for snapping out of a low mood is to refocus your attention away from yourself and toward helping others. Sign up to volunteer next week. Write a handwritten note to a friend who has been through a rough time lately. Make a donation to an organization you care about. Tell a mentor how much their influence has meant to you. It doesn’t need to be a big thing or an ongoing commitment…”think small” works here too.

Get inspired. We’ve all got our favorite sources of inspiration. Watch a favorite I-wish-I’d-made-something-this-amazing movie. Go to a museum and look at art. Read some poetry. It’s a little weird, but something that always seems to do the trick for me is watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. It gives me chills every time.

Sleep. Maybe you’re not getting enough rest? Go back to bed for an hour or take a nap in the afternoon…the day will still be there when you wake. As I wrote recently, “One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night.”

Meditate. Along with many other items on this list (sleep, exercise, pets, socializing), mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mental health, including stress reduction, reducing anxiety, addiction, and even chronic pain relief and depression. But you don’t need to sit in the lotus position on a velvet cushion to meditate…it can be as easy as sitting up straight and concentrating on your breathing for 5 minutes. Listening to relaxing music with your eyes closed or even playing video games can be meditative in their own way.

The best thing about many of the things on this list is that they provide benefits beyond just snapping you out of a temporary rut, especially if you can develop a practice around them. Exercise strengthens the body and mind. Feeling gratitude can alter your views on any number of political and social issues. Getting sufficient sleep can upgrade your entire life. Meditation can alter your reality. Helping others makes the world a better place. String enough of these together and perhaps waking up unmotivated and inspired can be a thing of the past. Definitely something to aim for anyway. Good luck!

  1. If you’re curious, here’s what I did to get motivated that morning: made my bed (I usually don’t), meditated with Alto’s Odyssey for 10 minutes, did the dishes, went through all my mail & paid my bills (a task I’d been putting off and dreading), did three other little tasks I’d been putting off, and took a long hot shower. Things I wish I’d been able to do as well: go for a walk (it was muddy and rainy and the nearest walkable town is a 30-minute drive), have lunch with a friend, go to a museum, stand in the sand at the ocean listening to the waves roll in. VT can be a challenge sometimes.

  2. Part of the reason I asked this question on Twitter is that I wanted to avoid treating myself on that particular morning. I didn’t want to play a game on my phone (I do that too much), take the day off (I’d already done that a few days earlier), or treat myself to an afternoon cookie (my diet lately has been terrible). And I definitely did not want to buy a TV I don’t need or a Nintendo Switch I wouldn’t really play.

Music from Babylon Berlin

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2018

I’ve been watching Babylon Berlin on Netflix for the past week and the scene that got me hooked was the time-bending dance number in the second episode, one of the most energetic, vibrant, and sexy scenes I’ve seen onscreen in a long time. The song in the scene, Zu Asche, Zu Staub, is a 20s/30s swing number put through a modern filter of EDM. You can hear it on the show’s soundtrack (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon):

The original music for the show was composed by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer, who have worked together since Tykwer’s breakout Run, Lola, Run and have done the music for Cloud Atlas, Sense8, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Fahrenheit 451

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2018

Coming to HBO in May is an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451. It stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.

In a future where the media is an opiate, history is rewritten and “firemen” burn books, Jordan plays Guy Montag, a young fireman who struggles with his role as law enforcer and with his “mentor”, played by Shannon.

The book, which got its title from “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns”, begins like so:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

The previous film adaptation was by Francois Truffaut in 1966, who cast Julie Christie in two of the main roles. It was Truffaut’s only English-language film and the first one in color.

Photographer captures the same people on the same NYC street corner many times over 9 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

Peter Funch

Peter Funch

For 9 years, photographer Peter Funch stood on a street corner near Grand Central Terminal, photographing the same people over and over again on their commutes to work…often wearing the same clothes and drinking the same drink. The result is 42nd and Vanderbilt (also available as a book).

The corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue… what’s that? It’s a patch of nowhere that hides, like similar patches of nowhere, in all cities everywhere. It’s the space of Edward Hopper. It’s the real estate equivalent of a Styrofoam packing peanut. It’s blank, and it’s in this blankness that we circle back to Warhol and repetition and the aesthetic experience we enjoy when we look from one Marilyn to the next to see which screened face has what kind of silkscreen printing error.

Reminds me a little of several things, but mostly of Hans Eijkelboom’s People of the Twenty-First Century.

Incredible lava photos from Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

Michael Shainblum Lava

For his project Cascade of Lava, photographer Michael Shainblum captured several photos of lava pouring out into the ocean in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. The double rainbow one is just…

Shainblum also took some photos during the solar eclipse last year.

On the psychology (and business) of color

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 05, 2018

Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone Color Institute’s executive director, teaches an annual class on trend forecasting and the psychology of color. She joined Pantone after publishing her 1983 book “Alive With Color,” and she created the color clock concept.

Eiseman believes that our reaction to colors “goes beyond the psychological into the physiological” and that colors carry inherent messages that all humans innately understand — the whispers of that “ancient wisdom.” She doesn’t deny the important influence of memory and social factors on color perception, but often, she says, “our response is involuntary, and we simply have no control over it.” 

Last October, Eiseman published her 10th book, “The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition,” her boldest statement yet on the psychology of color — and one that might rightly be displayed in the self-help section. Consider a chapter titled, “Personal Colors: What Do They Say About You?” which offers a kind of chromatic horoscope that locates truths not in the cosmos but in the spectrum of visible light.

If you’ve ever wondered how the Pantone Color of The Year comes to be, Bruce Falconer’s exploration of the business of color is the place to start.

N.B. I’m pretty sure lilac will be the next millennial pink, but I’m no expert.

The world’s largest ice carousel

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2018

Ice Carousel

Ice Carousel

Ice Carousel

A group of Mainers have created what they say is the world’s largest ice carousel. An ice carousel is formed when a circular piece of ice is allowed to spin freely within a surrounding sheet of ice. Spinning disks of ice can form naturally in slowly flowing rivers, but the ice carousel in Sinclair at the tip of northern Maine was cut specifically out of the ice on Long Lake.

The carousel is 427 feet across, a quarter mile in circumference, more than two feet thick, and estimated to weigh 11,000 tons. The keep the carousel spinning very slowly with a collection of outboard boat motors fastened to the disk. Here’s a video tour by drone:

The photos above are by Paul Cyr, who has many more here, including some of the construction process.

Trailers for Wall-E in the style of seven different genres (horror, romance, etc.)

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

Recutting movie trailers to wrong-foot movies into different genres is an old YouTube tradition — see The Shining as a romantic comedy, 90s-style opening credit sequences for prestige dramas like Game of Thrones, and Toy Story as a horror film — but this recasting of Wall-E into trailers for seven different genres (including a Jony Ive bit at an Apple keynote) is a good demonstration of the power of film editing. Just switch a few scenes, slip in some different music, change the pacing of cuts, and you’ve got yourself a completely different movie. Watching these types of videos always makes me think that film editors do not get the credit they deserve. (See, for example, how extensive editing rescued Star Wars.) (via @johnbarta)

3000 years of art in just three minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2018

This short film from 1968, set to Classical Gas, shows 3000 years of fine art in just three minutes. As the final frame of the film says:

You have just had all of the Great Art of the World indelibly etched in your brain. You are now cultured.

As mesmerizing as the film is, especially for 1968, the backstory is perhaps even more interesting. Mason Williams, who wrote and recorded Classical Gas, saw this film by UCLA film student Dan McLaughlin and arranged, with McLaughlin’s permission, to have the original soundtrack replaced with his song and to have it aired on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS, then the number one show on TV in America.

The impact of the film on television opened the door to realizations that the viewer’s mind could absorb this intense level of visual input. It was a double shot of a hundred proof music and video that polished the history of art off in three minutes! It was also the beginning of the fast images concept now called kinestasis (a rapidly-moving montage technique set to music) that has over the years been exploited so effectively by television commercials, documentaries, etc.

Curiously, a similarly produced film called American Time Capsule also aired on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that year. Directed by Chuck Braverman, it showed 200 years of American history in less than 3 minutes:

McLaughlin’s film was produced and aired first (he made it in 1967) and was the inspiration for Braverman’s film (see the relevant snippets from David Sohn’s Film: the Creative Eye) but Braverman made a career out of the technique.

I was actually working in the same building as [Tommy Smothers], at CBS as an assistant — really as a messenger — trying to get into the cameraman’s union in the news department. They literally made the Comedy Hour just upstairs. I called, made a meeting, and Tommy looked at my other work and we discussed doing a film on the history of the United States — American Time Capsule. I made it and it aired on the weekend before the November ‘68 election and it was a huge hit. It catapulted me into a career. Not only did it appear on the Smothers’ Brothers Show, which was huge, but it appeared on The Tonight Show within a few weeks and then 60 Minutes picked it up. So I got a reputation right away for being the king of the fast-cut montage. I ended up doing dozens of commercials and lots of title sequences.

My favorite use of the technique is in the trailer for A Clockwork Orange:1

But anyway, getting back to Mason Williams and Classical Gas, after the success of the 3000 years of art video, he wrote a sketch about video jockeys playing music videos on TV:

As a result of the response to the CLASSICAL GAS music video, in September of 1968 I wrote up a piece for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, projecting the idea that someday VJ’s would be playing hit tapes on TV, (as well as DJ’s hit records on radio), a prophesy of what was, 13 years later, to become MTV.

All this film and media history, just barely surviving in YouTube videos, video descriptions, partial scans of out-of-print books, and interviews & obituaries scattered willy-nilly all over the we, what a mess. What a fascinating mess. (via open culture)

  1. Who made this trailer? Kubrick? His editor? Braverman? A Warner Brothers employee who was in charge of making film trailers and was a fan of Braverman? I couldn’t find any info on this.

Rihanna with a Pearl Earring

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2018

Shusaku Akaoka

Shusaku Akaoka

Shusaku Akaoka

Japanese graphic designer Shusaku Takaoka takes famous artworks and cleverly incorporates them into movies scenes or celebrity photos. If you scroll back through his earlier photos,1 you can see him experimenting with various techniques before hitting his stride around September of last year.

  1. One of my favorite things to do is scroll back through Instagram accounts like this to see the evolution not only of the work but of their self-presentation. You can often see the moment where they go, “oh shit, I’ve got lots of followers now, I’d better think more about what I post here”. See also the unbearable lightness of being yourself on social media.

Broad Band, Claire Evans’ book about “The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2018

I’m looking forward to reading Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans. Addie Wagenknecht recently did an interview with Evans about the book.

The easy thing is to say that Broad Band is a feminist history of the Internet. That’s what I’ve been telling people. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s a history of the Internet told through women’s stories: boots-on-the-ground accounts of where the women were, how they were feeling and working, at specific, formative moments in Internet history. It emphasizes users and those who design for use, while many popular tech histories tend to zero in on the box. I’ve always been fascinated with what happens after hardware hits the market; it’s what we do with it that counts.

When I first heard of the book, I thought immediately of Halt and Catch Fire, a connection that Adi Robertson picked up on as well.

Robertson: It’s funny how much this book reminded me of Halt and Catch Fire.

Evans: Yes! Oh my god. One of my great regrets about the timing of me writing this book is that Halt and Catch Fire is over now, and I can’t con my way into a consulting job on that show. It was so fun being deep in the process of researching arcana and internet history and then seeing these little nuggets appear in a more glamorous form on my favorite TV show. It kind of felt surreal. But definitely made me feel like I was headed in the right direction.

My recent media diet for March-ish 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I was out of town for a few days so there are more books on here than usual. I’m trying to keep it up…reading right now but too early to call: Broad Band, Am I There Yet?, Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. Oh and I’m really glad The Americans is back on, even though it’s the final season. (As I’ve said before, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades. They are subjective and frequently wrong.)

Star Trek Voyager. Not in the same league as Next Generation, but it hums along nicely after they get going. (B)

Mr. Robot. I watched the first episode of season three and then got distracted by other things. Anybody watch the whole season? Is it worth circling back? (TBD)

Annihilation. I enjoyed this more than many people I know, but not as much as Matt Zoller Seitz. Eager to watch it again since reading the book (see below). (B+)

Lincoln. I love this movie. One of Spielberg’s best. (A)

Ugly Delicious. I wanted to hate this, but it’s really interesting and David Chang wears you down with his, well, I wouldn’t call it charm exactly. The episode that really hooked me was the Thanksgiving one, when he’s wandering around a massive supermarket with his mom, who’s mockingly calling him “David Chang” (you can almost hear the appended ™ in her voice) and then refers to him as the “Baby King”. Also, for a chef, Chang is weirdly incurious about food but harangues people for not appreciating kimchi. I really should write a longer post about this… (A-)

Murder on the Orient Express. Better than I had heard, if you choose to embrace its slight campiness. I really enjoyed Branagh’s Poirot. (B+)

Geostorm. I love disaster movies like this, but I kept checking my phone during this one and a day or two later I couldn’t have told you a single plot point. That will not stop me from watching it again because (see first sentence). (C)

Sunsets. I recommend them, particularly on the beach. (A)

The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles Mann. “I recommend that you read The Wizard and the Prophet”. (A)

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Great book, deserving of all its accolades. (A-)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. This is likely an unpopular opinion, but I liked the movie more. Upon finishing, I was not inclined to read the sequels. (B)

The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. As I mentioned here, I’m reading this aloud to my kids, which feels a little like a time machine trip back to antiquity. (A)

An Incomplete History of Protest. Inspiring collection of objects related to the protests of everything from the AIDS crisis to Vietnam. Fascinating to see how the disenfranchised leveraged art and design to counter their neglect by the powerful. (A-)

Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables. Fun to see American Gothic up close, but I was more impressed by some of Wood’s other work, particularly his illustration-like landscapes. I showed the kids a photo I had taken of one of the paintings and Ollie said, “that looks like a 3D rendering!” (B+)

Stephen Shore at MoMA. I’d label this a “must see” if you’re into photography at all. Shore’s shape-shifting career is inspiring. (A-)

Red Sparrow. I was texting with a friend about how cool it would be if J. Law’s character in Red Sparrow was Paige Jennings from The Americans all grown up, but the timelines don’t match up. (B-)

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I don’t play a lot of board games so maybe this is a common thing now, but I really like how all the players have to work together against the game to win. But once you get past the first couple of decks, the games take *forever*. (B+)

The Royal Tenenbaums. Rushmore will always be my sentimental Wes Anderson fave, but Tenenbaums is right up there. (A)

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. I have been listening to the audiobook version while in the car, and Wallace’s reading of the first story, Big Red Son (about an adult video awards show), made me laugh so hard that I had to pull of the road at one point. (A)

Logan Lucky. Much better on the second watch. I don’t know why I didn’t appreciate it the first time around…I love Soderbergh and this is basically Ocean’s 7/11. (A-)

Moon. I saw this when it originally came out but didn’t like it as much the second time around. Great soundtrack though. (B+)

Sleep. An 8-hour-long album designed to be played while you sleep. I listened to the entire album while working, and it’s pretty good for that purpose as well. (A-)

Simon and the Whale. Wonderful room and service. Really good cocktails. I know the kitchen crew and they still blew me away with the food. (A)

Girls Trip. I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie since I don’t know when. Bridesmaids maybe? Can’t wait to watch this again in a few months. (A-)

Ready Player One. I very much enjoyed watching this movie. Spielberg must have had fun going back through the 80s pop culture he had a large part in shaping. (A-)

Electricity. I’m writing this not from my usual home office but from the lobby of the local diner/movie theater. We had a wind storm last night, which knocked the power out at my house. That means no heat, no water, no wifi, and very poor cell reception. And a tree came down across the road I live on, so I was “stranded” for a few hours this morning until someone showed up with a chainsaw. I unreservedly recommend electricity (and civilization more generally). (A+)

The influences of Call Me By Your Name

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2018

In this episode of the Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak imagines a film school class that studies the influences of Call Me By Your Name, which include a pair of Merchant Ivory films, A Room With a View and Maurice. One of the best love stories I’ve seen in recent years, Call Me By Your Name is one of those movies I’m waiting to watch again after some time, saving it like the last chocolate in the box.