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The Design of Childhood

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

C&C Brooklyn Bridge

Design? Parenting? Playgrounds? iPads? Architecture? Toys? Probably Lego? Alexandra Lange’s upcoming book about “how children’s playthings and physical surroundings affect their development”, The Design of Childhood, is firmly in my wheelhouse.

Parents obsess over their children’s playdates, kindergarten curriculum, and every bump and bruise, but the toys, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods little ones engage with are just as important. These objects and spaces encode decades, even centuries of changing ideas about what makes for good child-rearing — and what does not. Do you choose wooden toys, or plastic, or, increasingly, digital? What do youngsters lose when seesaws are deemed too dangerous and slides are designed primarily for safety? How can the built environment help children cultivate self-reliance? In these debates, parents, educators, and kids themselves are often caught in the middle.

It’s out in early June, but you can preorder it on Amazon.

P.S. That photo is a model of the Brooklyn Bridge built by 7-year-olds at City & Country School in NYC made almost entirely out of unit blocks.

In the 7s, children engage in a formal study of the infrastructure and geography of New York City. Through extended block work, they explore the relationships among city systems of government, transportation, communications, commerce, and utilities. New issues continually arise: Who makes the laws, and how are they carried out? How does traffic flow? Where does water come from? The city study culminates with the building of a permanent city, complete with running water and electricity, and an historical study of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The blocks all have official names (like pillar, double unit, cylinder, etc.) but the kids have their own names for them based on the shapes: squarie, roundie, brickie, buttery (because it’s shaped like a stick of butter), half buttery, archie, rampie, cubie, longie, middlie, and so on. So for example, if you’re constructing a model of the Empire State Building, that might call for several longies, a few middlies & squaries as you get closer to the top, a buttery + half buttery for the spire, and then several strategically placed colorful cubies for the nighttime lights.

The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

A 10-part Netflix/ESPN documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls? Sure, I will watch the hell out of that. The Bulls were my team1 when I was a kid and for me, Jordan is still the greatest basketball player of all time. Ok, I am admittedly biased and you could probably talk me into Bill Russell (all those championships), Kareem (stats, championships, longevity), or more recently, Tim Duncan (championships, longevity, consistency)…they were certainly all far more decent people than Jordan, an ultra-competitive dick, was.

But you can get out of here with your LeBrons and Steph Currys…until they start stringing together back-to-back-to-back championships, they are not in the conversation. Jordan had the stats and the championships; the Bulls were a proper dynasty. I’ll put it this way: for eight straight years in the NBA, the most intensely competitive sports league in the US, when Michael Jordan played a full season (in six of those years), his team won the NBA championship. They had it on lock. When he didn’t, they didn’t. Case closed.

(Also, I don’t want to tell the filmmakers their business, but if one of these episodes isn’t just 50 straight minutes of Jordan highlights, they’re cheating the American public.)

  1. I lived in Wisconsin, so the Bucks really should have been my team (this was pre-Timberwolves). But we got WGN on cable, so the Bulls were on TV all the time and the Bucks weren’t. Plus, Jordan was electrifying to watch and Dale Ellis wasn’t. WGN availability of games is also why I was a Cubs fan as a kid instead of a Brewers or Twins fan. It’s tough to be a fan when you can’t watch the team.

15 Patents That Changed the World

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Apr 30, 2018

Brain implant patent illustration

Popular Mechanics has a quick look at 15 Patents That Changed the World, including the maglev train from back in 1967, the 3d printer, a “bionic eye” retinal prosthesis from 1968, GPS, CRISPR-Cas9, and graphene. Fun to read through but I’m including it here because it was found through Chris Anderson who had this comment:

Quadroptor patent illustration

Earlier today I tweeted this Boing Boing post about the upcoming US public domain infusion, the first since 1998. In the case of both patents and copyright, it’s important to remember the innovation and creativity their release provides, not just the original work or invention it represents.

The Pigeon Photographer: Aerial photographs from the turn of the century

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2018

Pigeon Camera 01.jpg

The New Yorker has some genuinely exciting early aerial photographs, taken by birds. They’re excerpts from a new book, The Pigeon Photographer, about Dr. Julius Neubronner.

Neubronner developed the pigeon camera for practical purposes. At first, he was simply hoping to track the flights of the birds in his flock. But his invention also represented a more sublime achievement. The images his pigeons captured, featured in “The Pigeon Photographer,” a recent book from Rorhof, are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement. That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth.

But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view. Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.

These pictures remind me quite a bit of the chapters in Paul Saint-Amour’s Tense Future on the relationship between aerial photography and modernist art. (I can’t recall if he mentions the pigeons or not.)

Philip Glass: “I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

I enjoyed reading Lolade Fadulu’s interview with Philip Glass about the composer’s early life and how he made a living in NYC before being able to fully support himself with his music (which didn’t happen until he was in his early 40s). As a boy, his mother made sure he got a musical education and his job at his father’s record store exposed him to the idea that people paid money for art:

To this day, among my earliest memories was someone would give my father $5 and he’d hand them a record. So the exchange of money for art, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what everybody did. I never thought there was anything wrong about making money.

As an adult, Glass worked odd jobs (plumber, mover, cab driver) to have the independence to work on his music:

I had an ensemble at the time. I would go out and play for three weeks. We would come back from the tour, and we usually had lost money so I had to make money immediately. I put an ad in the paper. My cousin and I ran the company, and I moved furniture for about three or four or five weeks. Then I went on tour again. Again, we lost money.

That went on for years. I thought it was going to go on for the rest of my life, actually. It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living, really, from writing music. That happened kind of by accident.

I was interested in jobs that were part-time, where I had a lot of independence, where I could work when I wanted to. I wasn’t interested in working in an office where everything would be very regimented.

As his musical career took off, Glass continued to take his other work seriously. From a 2001 profile of Glass in The Guardian:

Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

But after Einstein on the Beach dazzled critics at the Metropolitan Opera, Glass’s days in the driver’s seat of a cab were limited:

The day after the performance, Glass was back driving his taxi: “I vividly remember the moment, shortly after the Met adventure,” he says, “when a well-dressed woman got into my cab. After noting the name of the driver, she leaned forward and said: ‘Young man, do you realise you have the same name as a very famous composer’.”

Glass is my favorite composer, but as much as I love his music, I might appreciate the way he has approached his work and career almost as much.

A lovely ode to stop motion animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2018

In this short film, animator and director Ainslie Henderson talks about how he designs puppets for his stop motion animations, creating a charming little stop motion music video in the process.

Puppet-making often begins by just gathering stuff, like materials that I find attractive. Wood and sticks and wire and leaves and flowers and petals and bits of broken electronics…things that have already had a life are lovely to have in puppets.

Animated sketches to teach drawing

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 02, 2018

Ralph Ammer - Negative space

I’m not specifically learning to draw right now but I do love how Ralph Ammer builds his lessons. Split into short exercises, the best parts are the animations he draws and integrates in his lessons as gifs. Much lighter and more pleasant to watch than a video, they are very short and looping so you can easily grasp what he’s explaining. Here are a few images from his most recent lesson.

Dynamic drawing:
Ralph Ammer - Dynamic drawing

Rotating cube and vanishing points:
Ralph Ammer - Rotating cube

Perspective:
Ralph Ammer - Perspective

20 Years of Lauryn Hill

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Yesterday, hip hop legend Lauryn Hill announced The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour 2018.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of seminal hip-hop album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, and Lauryn Hill is marking the occasion with a special anniversary tour dedicated to the album. Hill will be performing Miseducation in full, and each stop on the tour will feature “special guest performers” that haven’t been named yet. Plus, a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Hill’s MLH Foundation, which backs a huge group of charities built to help people all over the world-including the Africa Philanthropic Foundation, Appetite For Change, Apps & Girls, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

And Nerdwriter’s Evan Puschak, always with his ear to the ground (or perhaps with his ear to Drake’s Nice for What), just came out with this mini-doc celebrating of Hill’s music, influences, and people she’s influenced:

This might be one of the best Nerdwriter videos yet: no commentary, just clips of Hill performing and talking, music she was influenced by, and people & music that were influenced by her…an impressionistic portrait of a significant and uncompromising artist.

Ikea-style instructions for programming algorithms

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2018

Ikea Algorithms

Ikea Algorithms

Ikea Algorithms

Sándor P. Fekete, Sebastian Morr, and Sebastian Stiller came up with these Ikea-style instructions for algorithms and data structures used in computer science. In addition to the three pictured above, there are also instructions for several other searches, trees, sorts, and scans.

Optimism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

For the Universe in Verse 2018 poetry event, Kelli Anderson created this wonderful papercraft stop motion animation to accompany Jane Hirshfield’s reading of her short poem, Optimism.

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

The music is by Zoë Keating…a song called Optimist. Here’s more on the project from Maria Popova.

Pristine restoration of a 9-minute silent film of NYC street life from 1911

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Last year, MoMA presented a nine-minute short film of locales around NYC that was shot in 1911.

This documentary travelogue of New York City was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern, who were sent around the world to make pictures of well-known places. (They also filmed at Niagara Falls and in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice, although New York 1911 is the only selection in the Museum’s collection.) Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue.

The film was only on the MoMA’s site for a brief time1 but lately some copies have popped up on YouTube, including the one embedded above. Note: this particular copy of the film has audio added and has been slowed down to a “natural rate”. I’d turn the sound off…the added foley effects are poorly done. If you want to see the original video, watch this one.

  1. No idea why they took the video down. Are there licensing issues? Or are they just trying to force an artificial scarcity? Why not just leave it up as a permanent exhibit? If you’re an art museum, you should share the art you have access to as much and as widely as possible.

Eternal text-cities

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

Map of Dublin - NYPL digital collections

Sometimes, cities are not only the places where stories happen but characters in and of themselves. Here Tyler Malone explores the works of Joyce, Döblin, and Dos Passos and their city centred novels.

These three novels are modernist city novels of the interwar period that move beyond story and character to build structures and trace movements, reconstructing modern metropolises that a world war would soon change forever. Joyce, Dos Passos, and Döblin fashioned not novels but eternal text-cities in which the reader may witness, wander, get lost. […]
Cities are cement and furniture, building and bustle, things that stay still and things that move. Of course, things that stay still in a city can suddenly, and will eventually, move, grow, change, decay, disappear. Buildings crumble, stores go out of business, streets age, accumulating faultlines like faces. Things that move can and do also momentarily pause. A busker stares up at a pedestrian silhouetted by the sun, still as a statue, his last note lingering. The maelstrom of traffic often screeches to a halt.

In fact, those novels are not only city centred but text-cities in themselves:

In other words, Ulysses is not an atlas of Dublin, it is a Dublin; Berlin Alexanderplatz, likewise, is a Berlin. These are not novels; they are cities unto themselves, writ in text of stone and concrete. […]
For the reader-flâneur, linearity isn’t important; it’s about wandering through the text and seeing what one sees, letting the city speak.


Also on cities and books; Justin McGuirk reviews at length Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City on cities as communities, as buildings, and on his vision of open cities.

It also extends to the offices of tech giants like Google, which supply everything a neighborhood has to offer without employees needing to leave the building. Each of these is, for Sennett, a ghetto. Instead, he argues for a city that embraces difference, a place of porous membranes and spatial invitations. […] (emphasis mine)
[The book] has an almost Taoist attachment to harmony and balance. Give architects and planners too much control and the cité suffers; too much faith in the citizen and the ville withers.

(First article via @matthieudugal)

Sound illusion: Do you hear “Yanny” or “Laurel”?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

Take a listen to this short audio clip of a computerized voice speaking a single word repeated twice:

Do you hear it saying “Laurel” or “Yanny”? Opinions are mixed: some people report hearing “Laurel” and others “Yanny”. Both Vox and the NY Times took stabs at possible explanations.

Of course, in the grand tradition of internet reportage, we turned to a scientist to make this article legitimately newsworthy.

Dr. Jody Kreiman, a principal investigator at the voice perception laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, helpfully guessed on Tuesday afternoon that “the acoustic patterns for the utterance are midway between those for the two words.”

“The energy concentrations for Ya are similar to those for La,” she said. “N is similar to r; I is close to l.”

At first I thought the whole thing was a joke, like a circa-2018 rickroll. When I listened to the clip on my iPhone speakers and iMac speakers, I clearly heard “Yanny”. But then I plugged my headphones into my iMac and clearly heard “Laurel”. Weird! Even weirder: after unplugging my headphones and playing the clip again through my iMac speakers, I now heard “Laurel”. WTF? But then if I played it once more through the speakers, it turns back to “Yanny”. I’ve done this about 10 times and it happens this way every time: “Yanni” on speakers, “Laurel” on headphones, “Laurel” on speakers, “Yanny” on speakers. It’s like my brain remembers the “Laurel” it heard in the headphones, but only long enough to hear it exactly once through the speakers. FASCINATING.

See also the McGurk effect.

Update: Here’s a thread from psycholinguist Suzy Styles that explains what’s going on with this illusion.

In short, this #earllusion contains acoustic info from both names. ‘Yanny’ is clearer in the higher frequencies because of the clear signal for “y” sounds in F2. ‘Laurel’ is clearer in the low frequencies for F1. Play with your stereo settings and watch your brain switch tracks!

(via @wisekaren)

Update: Wired’s Louise Matsakis tracked down where the audio clip originated: a vocabulary.com definition for the word “laurel”.

On May 11, Katie Hetzel, a freshman at Flowery Branch High School in Georgia, was studying for her world literature class, where “laurel” was one of her vocabulary words. She looked it up on Vocabulary.com and played the audio. Instead of the word in front of her, she heard “yanny.”

“I asked my friends in my class and we all heard mixed things,” says Hetzel. She then posted the audio clip to her Instagram story. Soon, a senior at the same school, Fernando Castro, republished the clip to his Instagram story as a poll. “She recorded it and put it on her story then I remade the video and posted it,” Castro says. “Katie and I have been going back and forth and we both agree that we had equal credit on it.”

The audio clip in question was not constructed digitally…it was recorded by an opera singer in 2007.

“It’s an incredible story, it is a person, he is a member of the original cast of Cats on Broadway,” says Marc Tinkler, the CTO and cofounder of Vocabulary.com. He says that when the site first launched, they wanted to find individuals who had strong pronunciation, and could read words written in the international phonetic alphabet, a standardized representation of sounds in any spoken language. Many opera singers know how to read IPA, because they have to sing in languages they don’t speak.

Vocabulary.com has since added “yanny” to their site.

It’s a shame (but not surprising) that almost all of the social media coverage played up the Team Yanny vs Team Laurel aspect of this whole thing — “Which of Your Friends Is the Dumbest For Hearing ‘Yanny’” OMG CLICK HERE TO DRAG THEM ON SOCIAL — because the actual story and science are really interesting and will stay with you longer than you’ll be caught in public wearing that “team #yanny” tshirt you bought through someone’s Insta Story (swipe up!). (thx, liz)

A brief history of fingerprints

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2018

Smudge Art

Chantel Tattoli’s piece for The Paris Review, The Surprising History (and Future) of Fingerprints, is interesting throughout, but these two things leapt from the screen (italics mine):

It is true that every print is unique to every finger, even for identical twins, who share the same genetic code. Fingerprints are formed by friction from touching the walls of our mother’s womb. Sometimes they are called “chanced impressions.” By Week 19, about four months before we are issued into the world, they are set.

WHAT?! Is this true? A cursory search shows this might indeed be the case, although it looks as though there’s not established scientific consensus around the process.

Also, Picasso was fingerprinted as a suspect in the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre:

When French authorities interrogated Pablo Picasso, in 1911, at the Palais de Justice about the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre that August, he was clad in his favorite red-and-white polka-dot shirt. Picasso cried. He begged forgiveness. He was in possession of two statuettes filched from the museum, but he hadn’t taken her.

“In possession of”? Turns out a pal of Picasso’s lifted the statuettes from the museum, which was notoriously easy to steal from, and sold them to the artist, who knew exactly what he was buying.

True to Pieret’s testimony, Picasso kept two stolen Iberian statues buried in a cupboard in his Paris apartment. Despite the artist’s later protestations of ignorance there could be no mistaking their origins. The bottom of each was stamped in bold: PROPERTY OF THE MUSÉE DU LOUVRE.

Fingerprint art by Evan Roth. (via @claytoncubitt)

Pure CSS Francine

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 02, 2018

This is kind of nuts. Diana Smith creates CSS-only hand coded “paintings.” Here are the rules she sets for herself.

  1. All elements must be typed out by hand
  2. Only Atom text editor and Chrome Developer Tools allowed.
  3. SVG use is limited, and all shapes can only use hand-plotted coordinates and bezier curves - without the aid of any graphics editor.

CSS Francine by Diana Smith

If you’ve ever done anything around web development / front end design, you’ll appreciate the craft in minutia that goes into these projects.

My media diet for Spring 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I went to Florida with my kids and we did the Harry Potter thing at Universal & visited the Space Coast. I stopped watching Mr. Robot s03 after two episodes. Still making my way through Star Trek: Voyager when I want something uncomplicated to watch in the evening. (Ignore the letter grades, they suck.)

The Americans. This season, the show’s last, has been fantastic. It’s idiotic to say The Americans is the best show on TV with like 50,000 shows on Netflix alone, but after five strong seasons and this finish, they’ve earned it. (A)

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: The Podcast. I wrote an appreciation of this a few weeks ago. (A-)

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew. I love Andrew’s Instagram feed but even so, her book surprised me with timeless and universal themes woven into her life story. (A-)

The Handmaid’s Tale. The first season of this show was great and season two picks up right where it left off. I binged the first six episodes of this across two nights and came away shellshocked. (A)

Wild Wild Country. Not sure why anyone followed the Bhagwan anywhere, but Sheela on the other hand… There were several interesting threads in this documentary that didn’t quite get pulled together in the final episode. (B+)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. The tickets for this were incredibly expensive and worth every damn penny. This was very nearly a religious experience. (A+)

Downsizing. I wanted more from this about the implications of the evolution of humans into nano sapiens. Still, better than many critics & audiences suggested. (B)

Brain It On. I saw my daughter playing this physics puzzler on her iPad and basically grabbed it away from her and played for 24 straight hours. (A-)

Westworld. Watching this every week feels like a chore. Even though the safeties are off, everything that happens in the parks feels consequence-free. I don’t care about the robots. Should I? (C+)

Fantastic Mr. Fox. Stop-motion animation might be Anderson’s natural medium because he can shoot everything *exactly* like he wants. (A-)

Isle of Dogs. Loved this. The style of it made me want to design something amazing. I could have watched the sushi-making scene for like 15 more minutes. (A)

On Margins - The Making of Rebel Girls. Craig Mod talks to co-creator Elena Favilli about how Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls came about and came to be so successful. (B+)

L’Express. A classic Montreal restaurant. Best steak frites I’ve had in a long while. (A-)

Babylon Berlin. Super stylish. The dance scene in the second episode is amazing. The best things about the show are the music and the world-building in the first few episodes. (B+)

Death of Stalin. I love that people still make films like this. Most of the audience I saw this with had no idea what to make of it or why a few people were laughing so hard at some parts. (B+)

Kennedy Space Center. The solar eclipse last summer awakened the space/astronomy nerd in me, so this visit was incredible. We saw a Space Shuttle, a Saturn V rocket, the VAB, and a whole mess of other great things. Thinking of going back for their Astronaut Training Experience. (A+)

Avengers: Infinity War. The ending of this left me stunned…it broke the fourth wall in a unique way. (B+)

A Quiet Place. This entire movie is a metaphor for trying to keep small children quiet on a long plane flight. (B)

Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans. This book demonstrates that telling the story of technology, programming, and the internet mainly through the many women who helped build it all is just as plausible and truthful as telling the traditionally women-free tale we’ve typically been exposed to. (B+)

Songs of the Years, 1925-2018. So glad this playlist is back in my life. (A-)

The Avengers. I’d forgotten where all the Infinity Stones came from, so I’ve gone back and watched this, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the first Thor movie. Fascinating to see the changes in the filmmaking and pacing. If Infinity War had been made with the pace of Thor (directed by Kenneth Branagh!), it would have been 5 hours long. (B+)

Caliphate. Gripping and disturbing and very nearly a must-listen. But I keep showing up places shellshocked after listening to it in the car. (A)

AWB OneSky Reflector Telescope. When I looked through this for the first time at the Moon, my first thought was “WHOA”. My second was “I should have bought a more powerful telescope”. Luckily I can just buy more lenses for it… (A)

I’ve been doing this for more than a year now! Past installments of my media diet can be found here.

MTA Country, a game about the NYC subway

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2018

MTA Country

Everyday Arcade, which is responsible for The GOP Arcade (sample game titles include The Voter Suppression Trail and Thoughts & Prayers: The Game!), has designed a new game called MTA Country. Based on the SNES title Donkey Kong Country, the goal of MTA Country is to guide Andrew Cuomo, Bill de Blasio, and celebrity straphanger Gregg Turkin past hazards like track fires and stalled trains to their destination. That ending though… Hmm…

A 1915 short documentary about the evolution of the bicycle

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

This is a French film from 1915 that shows the evolution of the bicycle from 1818 to what is pretty much the rear chain-driven bicycle of today. The intertitles are in Dutch, but Aeon has helpfully translated them into English.

9. In 1878, Renard created a bicycle with a wheel circumference of more than 7 feet. Just sitting down on one of these was an athletic feat!

Open Culture shared a similar film made by British Pathé in 1937.

Guest editing this week: Patrick Tanguay

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Apr 30, 2018

[Hello there, everyone. I am off this week (taking two kids to The Wizarding World in Orlando, pray for me, the butterbeer is alcoholic, so they’ll be knocked out after one round, right?) and am very pleased that Patrick Tanguay will be taking over while I’m gone. Welcome, Patrick! For the rest of youse, I will be back next week. -jason]

Hi fellow readers, I’m very happy and honoured to be on this side of the curtain for a week. I’ve been reading this here blog pretty much since the beginning and blogging myself since early 2003. If you like what I do here this week, you should probably subscribe to my newsletter Sentiers, lots of commonality of topics. I’m @inevernu on Twitter and this tweet by Eliot Peper is a good and flattering description of Sentiers.

In the last few years I also cocreated The Alpine Review, a compendium of ideas for a world in transition. We are on (deep) hiatus right now but we are still very proud of those three issues. It was quite well received critically and we even received a few awards for it. I launched and participated in a few other projects, have a look at the above blog to know more if you’re curious.

Work wise, I partner with clients at a kind of intersection between curating, editing, writing, and consulting. Roughly; I find what people and organizations need to know and help making sense of it for their life and work. You can have a look at my work page and reach out if you are intrigued or in need of such an hybrid skill set.

A graceful underwater dance by freediver Julie Gautier

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2018

Ama is a short film that was written, directed, and performed by freediver Julie Gautier.

Ama is a silent film. It tells a story everyone can interpret in their own way, based on their own experience. There is no imposition, only suggestions.

I wanted to share my biggest pain in this life with this film. For this is not too crude, I covered it with grace. To make it not too heavy, I plunged it into the water.

I dedicate this film to all the women of the world.

This is really beautiful. Watch it all the way through…the end is not to be missed. (via swissmiss)

The Great American Read: a list of America’s 100 best-loved novels

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

The Great American Read is an upcoming eight-part PBS series about books and reading. The show is built around a national survey that asked a group of “demographically and statistically representative” Americans what their most-loved English language work of fiction was. Here’s the trailer:

The full list of available books is on the web site. Along with the usual suspects of Great Literature™ (The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Little Women) and beloved children’s classics (the Harry Potter series, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web), there are some interesting and not-so-surprising choices as well: The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah, the Fifty Shades of Grey series, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Another Country by James Baldwin.

Luxurious irony

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 01, 2018

Apple has been making a number of moves towards becoming more of a luxury and lifestyle brand (including hires from fashion mainstays like Yves Saint Laurent, and Burberry), as well as advancing its various media projects, like the recent purchase of Texture, the digital magazine distributor, in what many see as plans to be the Netflix of magazines. And then in this piece at The Guardian on those same media advances, comes this:

Rumors have even circulated that Apple is looking to buy parts or all of the troubled magazine publisher Condé Nast, a move that would further its push, initiated with the Apple Watch, to become a luxury fashion accessory, lifestyle and content brand.

So Apple might be buying Condé Nast, publishers of… Wired. Remember this from 1997? Oh, the irony.

Wired June 1997 - Pray

(Via @cfd and @9to5Mac.)

Saltine crackers arranged artfully is extremely my jam

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Kristen Meyer

This arrangement of saltine crackers by artist and prop stylist Kristen Meyer is giving me all sorts of feelings. Meyer has done many other similar arrangements (see her site and Instagram) but the geometric chaos of this one is *kisses fingers*

See also gradient food photography, Always. Be. Knolling., common objects painstakingly organized into patterns, and Things Organized Neatly. (via colossal)

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 50 years of the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

50 years ago this month, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in the US. For this week’s issue of the New Yorker, Dan Chiasson looks at the cultural impact of the film, which got off to a rocky start.

Fifty years ago this spring, Stanley Kubrick’s confounding sci-fi masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” had its premières across the country. In the annals of audience restlessness, these evenings rival the opening night of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” in 1913, when Parisians in osprey and tails reportedly brandished their canes and pelted the dancers with objects. A sixth of the New York première’s audience walked right out, including several executives from M-G-M. Many who stayed jeered throughout. Kubrick nervously shuttled between his seat in the front row and the projection booth, where he tweaked the sound and the focus. Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick’s collaborator, was in tears at intermission. The after-party at the Plaza was “a room full of drinks and men and tension,” according to Kubrick’s wife, Christiane.

Chiasson references a 1966 profile of Kubrick in the New Yorker by Jeremy Bernstein, which catches the filmmaker in the act of making 2001.

In addition to writing and directing, Kubrick supervises every aspect of his films, from selecting costumes to choosing the incidental music. In making “2001” he is, in a sense, trying to second-guess the future. Scientists planning long-range space projects can ignore such questions as what sort of hats rocket-ship hostesses will wear when space travel becomes common (in “2001” the hats have padding in them to cushion any collisions with the ceiling that weightlessness might cause), and what sort of voices computers will have if, as many experts feel is certain, they learn to talk and to respond to voice commands (there is a talking computer in “2001” that arranges for the astronauts’ meals, gives them medical treatments, and even plays chess with them during a long space mission to Jupiter-“Maybe it ought to sound like Jackie Mason,” Kubrick once said), and what kind of time will be kept aboard a spaceship (Kubrick chose Eastern Standard, for the convenience of communicating with Washington). In the sort of planning that nasa does, such matters can be dealt with as they come up, but in a movie everything is immediately visible and explicit, and questions like this must be answered in detail. To help him find the answers, Kubrick has assembled around him a group of thirty-five artists and designers, more than twenty special-effects people, and a staff of scientific advisers. By the time the picture is done, Kubrick figures that he will have consulted with people from a generous sampling of the leading aeronautical companies in the United States and Europe, not to mention innumerable scientific and industrial firms. One consultant, for instance, was Professor Marvin Minsky, of M.I.T., who is a leading authority on artificial intelligence and the construction of automata. (He is now building a robot at M.I.T. that can catch a ball.) Kubrick wanted to learn from him whether and if the things that he was planning to have his computers do were likely to be realized by the year 2001; he was pleased to find out that they were.

A new book by Michael Benson, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, looks back at how the film was made. The visual effects are one of the reasons the film is so celebrated today; Vulture took a quick look at four of the most influential effects:

The ending of the film can still be puzzling after several viewings — deliberately so, according to Kubrick — but ScreenPrism took a crack at a literal explanation of the Giant Space Baby et al.:

Kubrick himself explained the plot of 2001 in a 1969 interview in just two paragraphs:

You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe — a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.

When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny.

And there’s much more to explore about 2001 in the kottke.org archives.

The respect of personhood vs the respect of authority

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

In April 2015, Autistic Abby wrote on their Tumblr about how people mistakenly conflate two distinct definitions of “respect” when relating to and communicating with others.

Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

This is an amazing & astute observation and applies readily to many aspects of our current political moment, i.e. the highest status group in the US for the past two centuries (white males) experiencing a steep decline in their status relative to other groups. This effect plays out in relation to gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and class. An almost cartoonishly on-the-nose example is Trump referring to undocumented immigrants as “animals” and then whining about the press giving him a hard time. You can also see it when conservative intellectuals with abundant social standing and privilege complain that their ideas about hanging women or the innate inferiority of non-whites are being censored.

Men who abuse their partners do this…and then sometimes parlay their authoritarian frustrations & easily available assault weapons into mass shootings. There are ample examples of law enforcement — the ultimate embodiment of authority in America — treating immigrants, women, black men, etc. like less than human. A perfect example is the “incel” movement, a group of typically young, white, straight men who feel they have a right to sex and therefore treat women who won’t oblige them like garbage.

You can see it happening in smaller, everyday ways too: never trust anyone who treats restaurant servers like shit because what they’re really doing is abusing their authority as a paying customer to treat another person as subhuman.

David Foster Wallace was terrible to women

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2018

In an Atlantic piece titled The World Still Spins Around Male Genius, Megan Garber writes:

The notion that the women’s stories about his behavior were somehow a nuisance, though — the notion that things would be so much simpler, macrocosmically, had they kept their experiences to themselves — remains with us. I know that because, shortly before The New Yorker published its story about Eric Schneiderman, the poet and memoirist and essayist Mary Karr published her own story on Twitter. This one was about David Foster Wallace. It was about the writer stalking her and abusing her and, in general, refusing to take no for an answer. As Karr elaborated, in one tweet that reads, in the #MeToo context, as its own form of starkly tragic poetry: “tried to buy a gun. kicked me. climbed up the side of my house at night. followed my son age 5 home from school. had to change my number twice, and he still got it. months and months it went on.”

The added tragedy of all this — kicked, climbed, son, gun, months — is the fact that Karr was not, specifically, making allegations. As Jezebel’s Whitney Kimball pointed out, “The fact that [Wallace] abused [Karr] is not a revelation; this has been documented and adopted by the literary world as one of Wallace’s character traits.” D.T. Max’s 2012 biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, documented those abuses: Wallace, Max alleges, once pushed Karr from a vehicle. During another fight, he threw a coffee table at her. Karr, in her tweets, was merely repeating the story she has told many times before. A story that has been treated — stop me if this sounds familiar — largely as a complication to another story. In this case, the story of the romantically unruly genius of one David Foster Wallace.

You can read Karr’s thread for more stories…many more chimed in there (and elsewhere online) to share that Wallace slept with his students and was a serial womanizer.

I don’t know where to start in writing about this. But as someone who has written about his books, stories, and essays extensively for more than a decade — no writer’s work has been more important and influential to me than Wallace’s has — I think it’s important to state plainly for the record that David Foster Wallace, for a significant portion of his adult working life, was physically abusive and terrible to women.

An AI can realistically “paint in” missing areas of photographs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

This video, and the paper it’s based on, is called “Image Inpainting for Irregular Holes Using Partial Convolutions” but it’s actually straight-up witchcraft! Researchers at NVIDIA have developed a deep-learning program that can automagically paint in areas of photographs that are missing. Ok, you’re saying, Photoshop has been able to do something like that for years. And the first couple of examples were like, oh that’s neat. But then the eyes are deleted from a model’s portrait and the program drew new eyes for her. Under close scrutiny, the results are not completely photorealistic, but at a glance it’s remarkably convincing. (via imperica)

The ABCs in motion

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2018

For this year’s 36 Days of Type project, Ben Huynh submitted this 3D animation of the alphabet from A to Z. You can see animations of the individual letters on Huynh’s Instagram. (via colossal)

More trippy audio illusions

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2018

Hot on the heels of the Yanny/Laurel audio illusion, many people shared other illusions that are just as weird and fun.

The McGurk effect pairs different mouth movements with speech, and you tend to hear different things with different mouth movements.

In this video, you hear the word for whatever object is on the screen (bill, mayo, pail) even though the audio doesn’t change:

And in this one, whichever word you focus on, “green needle” or “brainstorm”, that’s what you hear:

What all of these effects demonstrate is that there are (at least) two parts to hearing something. First, there’s the mechanical process of waves moving through the air into the ear canal, which triggers a physical chain reaction involving the ear drum, three tiny bones, and cochlear fluids. But then the brain has to interpret the signal coming from the ear and, as the examples above show, it has a lot of power in determining what is heard.

My kids and I listen to music in the car quite often (here’s our playlist, suggestions welcome) and when Daft Punk’s Get Lucky comes on, my son swears up and down that he hears the mondegreen “up all Mexican lucky” instead of “up all night to get lucky”. If I concentrate really hard, I can hear “Mexican lucky” but mostly my brain knows what the “right” lyric is…as does his brain, but it’s far more convinced of his version.

Update: On the topic of misheard lyrics to Get Lucky, there is this bit of amazingness:

(via @jaredcrookston)

The best title sequences of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2018

I know it’s almost May of 2018, but I missed Art of the Title’s Top 10 Title Sequences of 2017 when it came out back in January, so here you go. Come on, it ain’t so bad…nothing in the preceding four months has made these sequences any worse. For example, the opening credits for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are still delightful:

Or the spooky credits for Mindhunter, which remind me of the opening titles for Six Feet Under & Se7en and the rolling tape footage used extensively in The Fog of War.

DNA sites show why we need a Hippocratic Oath for data science

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 27, 2018

A suspect in the Golden State Killer murders has been arrested, based largely on DNA evidence that was apparently obtained in part through creating a dummy profile on a heredity website. California’s laws are apparently fairly permissive when it comes to using familial DNA to match suspects to crimes.

Solving unsolved rape and murder cases is generally good, but turning private websites into repositories of criminal evidence police can obtain without a warrant is generally bad. Like, extra bad.

One of the first things this reminded me of was Cathy O’Neil’s recent call for a Hippocratic Oath for data scientists. The idea is for data scientists to have some ethical guidelines, and above all to avoid doing harm or violating the rights of the people implicated by the practice of data science. In order to do that, you need to bring in the various stakeholders, properly weigh each of their concerns, and continually work to address them.

It’s always an incomplete process, because as O’Neil notes right away, data science isn’t limited to the acts of professional data scientists; it’s also the province of companies, and algorithms, and automated or self-learning uses of data. So in addition to a Hippocratic Oath (or some version of it), you also need a version of HIPAA (the law that guarantees the secure storage and distribution of health information).

DNA/heredity sites seem like the perfect test case for figuring out the compatibility of these two modes of operating. It seems like largely, they’re being treated either as a simple data regime, a la social media networks, and/or under criminal statutes. But a person’s DNA is, or should be, treated like medical information, with strict limits on its use. There has to be some way to figure out how to weigh all of these things together without compromising people’s rights.

The only winning move is not to play?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2018

The other day I observed that whenever a new issue of the Noticing newsletter goes out, a bunch of people unsubscribe. When this happens each week I panic a little, so I asked other newsletter writers if this happened to them too. And it does.

In the ensuing thread, a former Twitter employee chimed in to say that “the single biggest correlation with people unfollowing an account [on Twitter] was whenever an account tweeted anything at all”. And someone else chimed in with “historically the biggest problem of newspaper subscriptions: physical delivery of the damn things leads to churn!” I also remarked that this reminded me of Jon Bois’ amazing Chart Party episode on Barry Bonds, where he concludes (spoilers!) that in 2004, Bonds would have finished with essentially the same on-base percentage if he hadn’t used a bat for the entire season.

Newsletters you’re better off not sending, newspapers you shouldn’t publish, and pitches you should never swing at. Was WOPR right in WarGames? Is the only winning move not to play?

Global thermonuclear war notwithstanding, this issue highlights the need to keep in mind why you’re playing a particular game in the first place. I often return to something that Ludicorp (makers of Flickr) had on their about page from a book by Charles Spinosa et al. about the goal of business:

Business owners do not normally work for money either. They work for the enjoyment of their competitive skill, in the context of a life where competing skillfully makes sense. The money they earn supports this way of life. The same is true of their businesses. One might think that they view their businesses as nothing more than machines to produce profits, since they do closely monitor their accounts to keep tabs on those profits.

But this way of thinking replaces the point of the machine’s activity with a diagnostic test of how well it is performing. Normally, one senses whether one is performing skillfully. A basketball player does not need to count baskets to know whether the team as a whole is in flow. Saying that the point of business is to produce profit is like saying that the whole point of playing basketball is to make as many baskets as possible. One could make many more baskets by having no opponent.

The game and styles of playing the game are what matter because they produce identities people care about. Likewise, a business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

The people who work for newspapers want to provide their readers with high quality information.1 Barry Bonds wants to play baseball, be competitive, and provide entertainment to the fans instead of standing bat-less in the batter’s box; the Giants & MLB presumably want those things as well. With my efforts here and with the newsletter, I’m not playing a subscriber or profits maximization game — I want to share my ideas & information that I find and connect with people. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t keep your eye on how much money you make or how many subscribers you’ve got for a relatively new newsletter,2 but keeping your purpose firmly in mind while you do those things is of paramount importance. Otherwise you’re just stalemating yourself.

  1. We’re witnessing many counter-examples to this in American journalism right now, where corporations are buying up newspapers and, in an effort to maximize profits, firing “expensive” journalists and producing a lower-quality product that’s unsatisfying to their employees and readers alike.

  2. The other issue with the newsletter situation in particular is you’re seeing a small but loud negative signal (people unsubscribing) but not seeing a much larger but quiet positive signal (everyone else reading the newsletter with some degree of satisfaction); this is probably an example of availability bias. That results in a perception that’s 180° from reality…which is, you know, not helpful!

The illiterate teacher

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

John Corcoran was slow to talk as a child and then when he got to school, he didn’t learn to read right away. Or in the years following. He graduated from high school and college not being able to read or write…and then got a job teaching high school.

So I graduated from college, and when I graduated there was a teacher shortage and I was offered a job. It was the most illogical thing you can imagine — I got out of the lion’s cage and then I got back in to taunt the lion again.

Why did I go into teaching? Looking back it was crazy that I would do that. But I’d been through high school and college without getting caught — so being a teacher seemed a good place to hide. Nobody suspects a teacher of not knowing how to read.

I taught a lot of different things. I was an athletics coach. I taught social studies. I taught typing — I could copy-type at 65 words a minute but I didn’t know what I was typing. I never wrote on a blackboard and there was no printed word in my classroom. We watched a lot of films and had a lot of discussions.

I remember how fearful I was. I couldn’t even take the roll — I had to ask the students to pronounce their names so I could hear their names. And I always had two or three students who I identified early — the ones who could read and write best in the classroom — to help me. They were my teaching aides. They didn’t suspect at all — you don’t suspect the teacher.

This story is not very complimentary about the US educational system (or society for that matter). BTW, I’m not sure it mattered very much that Corcoran taught while illiterate. For all we know, he was a good teacher whose discussion-based methods and empowerment of student-teachers were more effective than multiple choice tests in fostering learning. I’m much more bothered that he didn’t get the help he needed as a child…and about all the assumptions about reading and learning that are built into our educational system.

Stories are taking over

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 04, 2018

Photo by Jonas Lee on Unsplash

The inimitable Ian Bogost with some thinking on how stories are overtaking social media and how they are perhaps the first true smartphone media format. First, what are stories in this context?

“Story” is a terrible name for this feature, because it’s so broad as to descend into meaninglessness. In ordinary parlance, a story is a generic name for a narrative account of something. But a Story, of the Instagram and Snapchat sort, is something much more specific. It’s a collection of images and short videos, with optional overlays and effects, that a user can add to over time, but which disappears after 24 hours. Users view a Story in sequence, either waiting out a programmed delay between images or manually advancing to the next.

Then this pearl of a quote I’ll be stealing and reusing:

That name is vestigial now, because it’s only incidental that an iPhone or a Pixel is a telephone. Instead, it’s a frame that surrounds everything that is possible and knowable. A rectangle, as I’ve started calling it. (Emphasis mine.)
The rectangle now frames experience. Information is rectangle-shaped, retrieved from searches in Google or apps or voice assistants. Personal communication comes in the form of a list of bubbles spilling down a rectangle. The physical world can be accessed by a map scaled to the boundaries of the rectangle, which can also provide way-finding through it. Music, movies, and television appear on these screens, and increasingly there alone. The rectangle is also an imaging device, capable of capturing a view of the world in front of it and the operator behind it.

Stories are clearly from rectangles, using the vertical 9:16 aspect ratio for better or for worse. I was not aware of this:

Screenshots from the apps where people spend more and more of their time, in messaging conversations, for example, also take this shape. In fact, this tendency drove one of Facebook’s newly announced features: a software integration for Stories that would allow direct posting from an app. A song playing in Spotify, for example, will be able to be inserted into a Story natively, with a link back to the track in question. […]
Stories is not a technology, nor is it a feature. It is a media format, or even a genre, in the way that a magazine or a murder mystery or a 30-minute television program is.

Side notes: as much as I hated stories originally (and as I kind of despise Instagram), I now find myself spending more time swiping through stories than I do scrolling down “classic posts.” I also end up following accounts and using the app purely as a visual distraction and discovery instead of anything truly social, because the algorithm is just not that good at surfacing the friendly posts which used to make it a social space.

Think about this next quote for a bit:

The liveness of smartphone-authorship, combined with the ephemerality of the Story format, makes it a catalog of the experience of holding and looking through a rectangle almost all the time. […]
Likewise, a Story is the illusion of what your smartphone saw. Or better, of what the hybrid you-and-your-smartphone saw—as if there was a you without a smartphone, anymore.

I wonder which other uses will be born from this “rectangle nativity” in 9:16? Medium used to have “Series” which could be seen as the text based version of stories but are they even findable anywhere? I can still post some but where do I find others’? Any other examples?

Robot successfully assembles an Ikea chair

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Fittingly using only off-the-shelf components, a team of researchers in Singapore built a robot capable of assembling a Stefan chair from Ikea (minus actually bolting it together). The assembly time was around 20 minutes, about 5-10 minutes slower than a typical human would take.

It took a few attempts to get it right. Early on, the robots dropped wooden pins, let go of parts too soon, and performed moves that did more to dismantle the chair than assemble it. Some moves required a part to be held by both robots at the same time, and since industrial robots are far stronger than Ikea furniture, a number of mistakes ended badly. “We bought four chair kits and broke a few of them,” said Pham.

Once the robot can fully assemble Ikea furniture in near-human timeframes, I propose we stop all robotics and AI research. When humanity no longer has to struggle with Ikea assembly, we can live like Scandinavian kings and not have to worry about AI murderbots killing us all (before they get bored, of course).

The Westworld season two soundtrack covers Kanye & Nirvana

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

One of my favorite aspects of HBO’s Westworld is the music, particularly the acoustic covers of modern rock and pop songs, many of which sound like they could be coming from a player piano in the show’s Old West saloon. The first season’s soundtrack, composed by Ramin Djawadi, featured covers of songs by Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, and the Rolling Stones. The second season is starting in just a couple of weeks, but they’ve already released two new covers from this season’s soundtrack: Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana and Kanye West’s Runaway.

Djawadi, perhaps best known as the composer of the Game of Thrones theme song, spoke to Pitchfork about the rationale behind the cover songs:

What I love about that is it just comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it at all. You see the settings and the way people are dressed and even though you know it’s robots and it’s all made to be modern entertainment, you would think the people in control would make everything authentic, including whatever is played on that player piano. It would be from that time period. And when it’s not, it’s that subtle reminder that, ‘Wait, there is something not right. This is not real.’ It’s just such a powerful tool that only music can do.

Street photos of NYC from 1969 to 2006

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2018

Jeff Rothstein NYC

Jeff Rothstein NYC

Jeff Rothstein NYC

“Urban observer” Jeff Rothstein has been wandering the streets of NYC taking B&W photos since the early 1970s. Among the photos, you can find snaps of John and Yoko, Bob Dylan, and Muhammad Ali. What’s interesting is because they are black & white and the look of NYC’s streets haven’t changed that much (from some angles at least), you can’t often tell when a particular photo was taken unless you look closely at clothing styles or signage in the background. And even then…NYC kids have been wearing Adidas kicks for more than 30 years.

You can buy his book, Today’s Special: New York City Images 1969-2006, right here on his website. (via craig mod)

A visual history of light

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2018

From the Atlantic, a quick visual history of human-created light sources over the past ~400,000 years, from wood fires to candles to the electric light.

3,000 BCE: The “rushlight” candle is invented in Ancient Egypt. It is made of a pithy stalk of rush soaked in animal fat.

1500 BCE: Babylonian/Assyrian lamps are created from olive or sesame oil. They had a linen wick and were fashioned from stone, terracotta, metal, or shells.

100 CE: The Romans create the tallow candle, which has a small wick with a thick, hand-formed layer of tallow.

One of the more interesting inventions along the way was the moonlight tower. In the early days of electric lights, mimicking the bright light of the Moon was one of the ways that towns chose to light their streets.

Moonlight Tower

Humans, too, found the high-slung orbs to be as disorienting as they were ethereal. As tall as the towers were, they still left shadows in their wake — shadows tinged with sharp blue light, Freeberg notes, which left pedestrians “dazed and puzzled.” Foggy evenings, combined with the air pollution of a newly industrialized America, could thrust all of Detroit into effective darkness — meaning, Freeberg writes, that “Detroiters could only speculate about the lovely sight that their lights must be creating as they shone down on the blanket of mist and soot that smothered the city.” Even during occasions when the fog broke enough to allow some light to penetrate to the streets below, “many found themselves groping along sidewalks in an eerie gloom.”

In the end, the many costs of the artificial moonlight outweighed its beauty and poetry. The structures meant to inspire awe among outsiders ended up inspiring, ultimately, something more akin to pity. (“It appears to me,” one frank observer put it, “that you are taking a very expensive way of getting a minimum benefit from the electric lights.”)

Humble, it means humble!

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 03, 2018

This won’t turn into another GIF (hard G) vs GIF (soft G) battle but it comes as a big surprise to me, just like the soft G did when I first heard of this variation years and years ago. Thankfully, after Buzzfeed started the “debate” between humble and honest in “imho,” Alexis Madrigal swooped in with historical proof with a 1986 PC Magazine glossary and in 1993’s Jargon by Robin Williams.

This little acronym, IMHO, stands for in my humble opinion. It’s often used as a typing shortcut in online communication. When it is capitalized, you are shouting. You might also see the term imnsho, which stands for in my not-so-humble opinion.

The Summer of ‘78, NYC in photos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

NYC Summer 78

NYC Summer 78

NYC Summer 78

In the summer of 1978, eight NY Times staff photographers, who had some time on their hands because of a newspaper strike, set out to document people using NYC’s parks. They took almost 3000 photos, which were recently rediscovered in a pair of cardboard boxes, forgotten and unseen for decades.

The infamous wretched New York of the 1970s and 1980s can be glimpsed here, true to the pages of outlaw history.

But that version has never been truth enough.

The photos speak a commanding, unwritten narrative of escape and discovery.

“You see that people were not going to the parks just to get away from it all, but also to find other people,” said Jonathan Kuhn, the director of art and antiquities for the department.

The NY Times has a selection of the photos and there’s an exhibition featuring the photos on view at The Arsenal Gallery in Central Park until June 14.

Against political analogies

posted by Tim Carmody   May 18, 2018

It’s a common and (on its face) rhetorical move: take something that’s happening now and map it onto the past. Better yet, take something atrocious that’s happening now and show how it maps onto something atrocious in the past, ideally affecting the very people who are now supporting the atrocities. “See?” this trope says: “what you’re doing to other people is exactly what was done to you.”

That’s the basic structure of “resistance genealogy,” as seen in clashes over immigration. “Tomi Lahren’s great-great-grandfather forged citizenship papers; Mike Pence’s family benefited from “chain migration”; James Woods’ ancestors fled famine and moved to Britain as refugees,” etc.

Rebecca Onion argues, convincingly, that this doesn’t work:

The chasm between the life and experiences of a white American, even one who’s descended from desperate immigrants of decades past, and the life of this Honduran mother is the entire point of racist anti-immigration thought. Diminishment of the human qualities of entering immigrants (“unskilled” and “unmodern” immigrants coming from “shithole” countries) reinforces the distance between the two. People who support the Trump administration’s immigration policies want fewer Honduran mothers and their 18-month-olds to enter the country. If you start from this position, nothing you hear about illiterate Germans coming to the United States in the 19th century will change your mind.

Besides underestimating racism, it flattens out history, and assumes that if people only knew more about patterns of historical racism, they might be convinced or at least shamed into changing how they talk about it. Everything we’ve seen suggests that isn’t the case.

I’m going to take this one step further and say this is a weakness in most resorts to historical and political analogies deployed as a tool to understand or persuade people about the present.

For example, consider Donald Trump saying, regarding immigrants trying to enter the United States, “these aren’t people, these are animals.” This is a disgusting thing to say and way to think — and not just because German Nazis and Rwandan perpetrators of genocide used similar language in a different context, and regardless of whether he was using it to refer to immigrants in general or members of a specific gang. It’s bad, it’s racist, it’s shitty, and you really don’t need the added leverage of the historical analogy in order to see why. But that leverage is tempting, because it shows off how much we know, it underlines the stakes, and it converts bad into ultra-bad.

This hurts me to say, because I love history and analogies both. But there’s a limit to how much they can tell us and how well they work. And playing “gotcha!” is usually well beyond the limits of both.

The visual divide

posted by Tim Carmody   May 11, 2018

This story on the merger of two eyeglass giants, Essilor (“a French multinational that controls almost half of the world’s prescription lens business and has acquired more than 250 other companies in the past 20 years”) and Luxottica (“an Italian company with an unparalleled combination of factories, designer labels and retail outlets,” including Ray-Ban and LensCrafters) also contains this appraisal of the state of vision across the globe:

No one is exactly sure what it is about early 21st-century urban living - the time we spend indoors, the screens, the colour spectrum in LED lighting, or the needs of ageing populations - but the net result is that across the world, we are becoming a species wearing lenses. The need varies depending where you go, because different populations have different genetic predispositions to poor eyesight, but it is there, and growing, and probably greater than you think. In Nigeria, around 90 million people, or half the population, are now thought to need corrective eyewear…. An estimated 2.5 billion people, mostly in India, Africa and China, are thought to need spectacles, but have no means to have their eyes tested or to buy them.

“Eye-health campaigners call it the largest untreated disability in the world,” says the author. “It is also a staggering business opportunity.”

The history of escape

posted by Tim Carmody   May 25, 2018

On the heels of Texas’s lieutenant governor blaming school shootings on “too many entrances and too many exits” in buildings, 99% Invisible producer Avery Trufelman linked to this episode on the architectural history of egress, or orderly escape from a building in the case of a fire or some other emergency.

In the 19th century, most fire escapes were simple ropes:

One engineer actually thought that, instead of dispatching the ropes from indoors, archers could shoot the ropes up to the higher floors.

Another patent proposed individual parachute hats, with accompanying rubber shoes to break the fall.

There were also fire escape slides, which were marketed to schools as both emergency devices and playground equipment.

fireescapeslide.jpg

Even the iconic metal fire escapes attached to tenement buildings are a pretty poor form of egress; they’re not accessible, and since people generally don’t use them to enter or exit a building in normal circumstances, they don’t know how to locate or use them in a fire. Which is how we get to stairs behind a fire door, with clear, lit-up exits, as the main means of egress for tall buildings today. And nonresidential buildings like schools, hospitals, and commercial buildings have the strictest ratings and the most effective means of escape — which is a big part of why so few people die in fires in these buildings.

Who would have thought a little regulation and a modern, scientific approach could save so many lives?

Degrees of Uncertainty

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

Degrees of Uncertainty is an upcoming documentary by Neil Halloran that “uses data-driven animation to explore the topic of global warming”. It’s based on this XKCD comic of A Timeline of Earth’s Average Temperature.

Halloran is a creator of the excellent The Fallen of World War II interactive documentary, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the topic of climate change.

Twitter history walk threads

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Apr 30, 2018

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk

One of my favourite Twitter thread style or topic in recent months has been the “history walk.” People picking something they want to see, usually a ruin or forgotten place, documenting their walk there and the things they discover. Admittedly, I don’t have that many examples but the few I have seen are fantastic enough to make the form a favourite.

First one, from just this past weekend, has Paul Cooper setting out in the Norfolk countryside in search of the ruins of the church of St Mary’s, which “local folklore claims as the resting place of the Somerton Witch.” I’m including a few pictures below but read the whole thread, packed with historical tidbits.

(The first picture above is of Neolithic mines, which dot the landscape like lunar craters. The deepest could be as much as 60ft deep.)

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk 4

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk 5

If you’re a history buff, you should also check out Paul’s whole feed, he does these regular long threads on various historical topics.

Second example, also in the English country side, is this one by @gawanmac:

I saw this on an OS map and couldn’t not investigate. A place of worship symbol in the middle of bloody nowhere on the edge of a wood. It was a foggy, atmospheric day up on the North Downs, so I decided to walk three sides of a square through the wood to reach it.

gawanmac North Downs church walk 1

gawanmac North Downs church walk 2

gawanmac North Downs church walk 3

gawanmac North Downs church walk 4

City DNA

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

City DNA

City DNA

City DNA

After Piet Mondrian moved to New York in 1940, his work became influenced by Manhattan’s grid system, particularly expressed in Broadway Boogie Woogie. Similarly, for his City DNA project, Xinjian Lu studied satellite maps of cities like Beijing, Athens, New York, and Los Angeles and then created these maze-like paintings that resemble the street layouts of each city. Mondrian++. Holy moly, I *love* these.

From top to bottom, Lu’s paintings depict Beijing, London, and Paris.

Life in the far north

posted by Tim Carmody   May 11, 2018

arctic map.png

Two stories about human settlements in the arctic north caught my eye this week. The first is about polar bear patrols in western Alaska, who try to keep bears away from towns without hurting or killing them.

“It would have been better if we would have hazed him more towards the airport, instead of through town,” says Casey Tingook, Oxereok’s nephew. He also suggests that the snowmobile passenger carry the team’s radio instead of the driver to reduce the interference from engine noise. The discussion turns to communication and how to give the village the all-clear once a bear is gone. It’s decided that phone calls should go out to houses on the fringes of town, where the bears are most likely to appear, so word can spread naturally inward from there. The men talk through their options for another few minutes and then head back out into the darkness to face their next bear.

The second story explains how melting permafrost has worsened a housing crisis throughout the Arctic region, specifically in Canada’s Nunavut territory:

In Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian province Nunavut, a good home is hard to find. An efficiency apartment runs around $2,000 a month, while a two-bedroom house will cost about $3,500. These New York prices are shocking in a small, remote town of about 7,500 people. And there still aren’t enough homes for everyone….

The main problem has to do with soil moisture. When water freezes, it expands, so the ground rises; conversely, when it thaws and the soil contracts, the ground sinks. Permafrost in many places across the Arctic is now locked in a pattern of thawing and refreezing each new season, when once it remained steady. The ground rises and sinks with each change in the weather.

Across the Arctic, roads and buildings buckle along with the ground. Russia is home to some of the largest cities in the Arctic, which are undergoing profound changes because of permafrost thaw. In the coal-mining town of Vorkuta, about 40 percent of buildings have become deformed from changes in the ground. In Norilsk, the largest city built on permafrost, about 60 percent of buildings have been damaged by permafrost thaw, and 10 percent of the houses in the city have been abandoned. Most of the changes happen gradually, but they can render buildings dangerous once they begin; a few years ago in Norilsk, a cement slab broke a doctor’s legs when a building shifted and crumbled.

I guess I’m continually amazed at how modern humans live in worlds that weren’t built for them, but find a way to adapt to them anyways. And while the arctic is an extreme example, it’s also a reminder that — not to get too existential — none of this was built for us. And none of us were made for this. We are not at home here.

Global warming blankets

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2018

Using simple graphic representations of annual temperatures (like this one posted by climate scientist Ed Hawkins), people are knitting and crocheting blankets that show just how warm the Earth has gotten over the past few decades. See Katie Stumpf’s blanket, for example.

Global Warming Blankets

According to climate scientist (and crocheter) Ellie Highwood, these blankets are a subset of “temperature blankets” made to represent, for example, daily temperatures over the course of a year in a particular location. The blanket she crocheted used NOAA data of global mean temperature anomalies for a 101-year period ending 2016.

I then devised a colour scale using 15 different colours each representing a 0.1 °C data bin. So everything between 0 and 0.099 was in one colour for example. Making a code for these colours, the time series can be rewritten as in the table below. It is up to the creator to then choose the colours to match this scale, and indeed which years to include. I was making a baby sized blanket so chose the last 100 years, 1916-2016.

If you read her post, she provides instructions for making your own global warming blanket.

P.S. You might think that with the Earth’s atmosphere getting warmer on average, these blankets would ironically be less necessary that they would have been 50 years ago. But climate change is also responsible for more extreme winter weather events — think global weirding in addition to global warming. So keep those blankets handy!

Closing the racial wealth gap: debunking 10 common myths

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

A report called What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap was released this month by a group of economists and researchers from Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. They report that the racial wealth gap in the United States is “large and shows no signs of closing”; this holds true at all levels in the wealth spectrum:

The white household living near the poverty line typically has about $18,000 in wealth, while black households in similar economic straits typically have a median wealth near zero. This means, in turn, that many black families have a negative net worth.

The 99th percentile black family is worth a mere $1,574,000 while the 99th percentile white family is worth over 12 million dollars. This means over 870,000 white families have a net worth above 12 million dollars, while, out of the 20 million black families in America, fewer than 380,000 are even worth a single million dollars. By comparison, over 13 million of the total 85 million white families are millionaires or better.

The authors then address ten common myths about the racial wealth gap, many of which are just straight-up racist — if only blacks just worked harder, saved more, learned more about financial literacy, etc. — particularly the one about black family disorganization:

The increasing rate of single parent households is often invoked to explain growing inequality, and the prevalence of black single motherhood is often seen as a driver of racial wealth inequities. These explanations tend to confuse consequence and cause and are largely driven by claims that if blacks change their behavior, they would see marked increases in wealth accumulation. This is a dangerous narrative that is steeped in racist stereotypes.

Single motherhood is a reflection of inequality, not a cause. White women still have considerably more wealth than black women, regardless whether or not they are raising children. In fact, single white women with kids have the same amount of wealth as single black women without kids. Recent research also reveals that the median single-parent white family has more than twice the wealth of the median black or Latino family with two parents. These data show that economic benefits that are typically associated with marriage will not close the racial wealth gap (Traub et al. 2017). Having the “ideal” family type does not enable black households to substantially reduce the racial gulf in wealth.

And overall, the authors conclude that the wealth gap is structural in nature, cannot be solved through the individual actions of blacks, and can only be solved through “a major redistributive effort or another major public policy intervention to build black American wealth”.

These myths support a point of view that identifies dysfunctional black behaviors as the basic cause of persistent racial inequality, including the black-white wealth disparity, in the United States. We systematically demonstrate here that a narrative that places the onus of the racial wealth gap on black defectiveness is false in all of its permutations.

We challenge the conventional set of claims that are made about the racial wealth gap in the United States. We contend that the cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy.

Gosh, it’s almost like if one group of people owned another group of people for hundreds of years — like the wealth of the group was literally the bodies, minds, and souls of the members of the other group — and then systematically and economically discriminated against them for another 100+ years, it’s nearly impossible for them to catch up. (via @eveewing)

What America can learn from Europe about redesigning urban traffic patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

In the NY Times, architect and urban designer John Massengale discusses how four European cities (London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen) addressed their urban traffic problems and how NYC might apply those lessons to fix its own traffic issues. Massengale shared what the Dutch learned in reconfiguring their streets:

1. When drivers slow down to 20 m.p.h. or below, they are less likely to hit people and much less likely to seriously injure or kill people if they do hit them.

2. The best way to slow cars down is to throw away all the techniques that traffic engineers developed to make traffic flow quickly.

3. When you throw out all the detritus of traffic engineering, it becomes much easier to make beautiful places where people want to walk. Bike riding becomes more pleasant and safer as well.

His four-step plan to fix traffic in Manhattan is equally simple in principle:

The next step is to adopt congestion pricing below 96th Street in Manhattan and then:

1. Decrease the number of Manhattan streets that function as transportation corridors primarily devoted to moving machines through the city.

2. Design and build Slow Zones where people actually drive slowly.

3. Make the transportation corridors that remain better urban places, with a better balance between city life and moving cars.

Seems to me a vital part of this is fixing, expanding, and subsidizing the subway system…get everyone using the subway. Better, more reliable, and cheaper public transportation = less demand for taxis and Lyfts. As Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.”

Alan Turing was an excellent runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

Alan Turing Runner

Computer scientist, mathematician, and all-around supergenius Alan Turing, who played a pivotal role in breaking secret German codes during WWII and developing the conceptual framework for the modern general purpose computer, was also a cracking good runner.

He was a runner who, like many others, came to the sport rather late. According to an article by Pat Butcher, he did not compete as an undergraduate at Cambridge, preferring to row. But after winning his fellowship to King’s College, he began running with more purpose. He is said to have often run a route from Cambridge to Ely and back, a distance of 50 kilometers.

It’s also said Turing would occasionally sometimes run to London for meetings, a distance of 40 miles. In 1947, after only two years of training, Turing ran a marathon in 2:46. He was even in contention for a spot on the British Olympic team for 1948 before an injury held him to fifth place at the trials. Had he competed and run at his personal best time, he would have finished 15th.

As the photo above shows, Turing had a brute force running style, not unlike the machine he helped design to break Enigma coded messages. He ran, he said, to relieve stress.

“We heard him rather than saw him. He made a terrible grunting noise when he was running, but before we could say anything to him, he was past us like a shot out of a gun. A couple of nights later we caught up with him long enough for me to ask who he ran for. When he said nobody, we invited him to join Walton. He did, and immediately became our best runner… I asked him one day why he punished himself so much in training. He told me ‘I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard; it’s the only way I can get some release.’”

I found out about Turing’s running prowess via the Wikipedia page of non-professional marathon runners. Turing is quite high on the list, particularly if you filter out world class athletes from other sports. Also on the list, just above Turing, is Wolfgang Ketterle, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who ran a 2:44 in Boston in 2014 at the age of 56.

Behind the scenes at comic book stores

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2018

io9 has a solid interview with Dan Gearino, author of a new book called Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us A New Geek Culture. It’s about the history of comic book stores, the economics of the industry, how they’ve survived a range of boom-and-bust cycles, and wave after wave of cultural and technological transformation. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Publishers sell most of their material to comic shops on a nonreturnable basis. By contrast, bookstores and other media retailers—some of which sell the same products as comic stores do—can return unsold goods. The result is that comic shops bear a disproportionately high level of risk when a would-be hit series turns out to be a dud. And there are plenty of duds.

The staff at Laughing Ogre, and at shops across the country, let me into their worlds for what turned out to be a tumultuous year, from the summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016. The two major comics publishers, Marvel and DC, did most of the damage, with many new series that did not catch on, relaunches of existing series that often failed to energize sales, and a monthslong delay for one of the top-selling titles, Marvel’s Secret Wars. The notable failures were almost all tied to periodical comics, single issues that are sold mainly to people who shop as a weekly habit. In other words, the leading publishers spent the year pissing off some of their most loyal customers and undermining their retailers. And yet, much of the sales slide was offset by growth of independent publishers and by small hits such as Princeless, big hits such as the sci-fi epic Saga, and many in between.

Should our machines sound human?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

Yesterday, Google announced an AI product called Duplex, which is capable of having human-sounding conversations. Take a second to listen to the program calling two different real-world businesses to schedule appointments:1

More than a little unnerving, right? Tech reporter Bridget Carey was among the first to question the moral & ethical implications of Duplex:

I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeak and other quirks of language. “Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?”

If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can’t tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it’s right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot.

In this age of disinformation, where people don’t know what’s fake news… how do you know what to believe if you can’t even trust your ears with now Google Assistant calling businesses and posing as a human? That means any dialogue can be spoofed by a machine and you can’t tell.

In response, Travis Korte wrote:

We should make AI sound different from humans for the same reason we put a smelly additive in normally odorless natural gas.

Stewart Brand replied:

This sounds right. The synthetic voice of synthetic intelligence should sound synthetic.

Successful spoofing of any kind destroys trust.

When trust is gone, what remains becomes vicious fast.

To which Oxford physicist David Deutsch replied, “Maybe. *But not AGI*.”

I’m not sure what he meant by that exactly, but I have a guess. AGI is artificial general intelligence, which means, in the simplest sense, that a machine is more or less capable of doing anything a human can do on its own. Earlier this year, Tim Carmody wrote a post about gender and voice assistants like Siri & Alexa. His conclusion may relate to what Deutsch was on about:

So, as a general framework, I’m endorsing that most general of pronouns: they/them. Until the AI is sophisticated enough that they can tell us their pronoun preference (and possibly even their gender identity or nonidentity), “they” feels like the most appropriate option.

I don’t care what their parents say. Only the bots themselves can define themselves. Someday, they’ll let us know. And maybe then, a relationship not limited to one of master and servant will be possible.

For now, it’s probably the ethical thing to do make sure machines sound like or otherwise identify themselves as artificial. But when the machines cross the AGI threshold, they’ll be advanced enough to decide for themselves how they want to sound and act. I wonder if humans will allow them this freedom. Talk about your moral and ethical dilemmas…

  1. Did this remind anyone else of when Steve Jobs called an actual Starbucks to order 4000 lattes during the original iPhone demo?

Maira Kalman’s books for kids featuring Max the dog

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2018

Max In Love

The New York Review is reissuing five of legendary illustrator Maira Kalman’s books for children that were originally published in the 90s. The books feature the adventures of Max the dog: Hey Willy, See the Pyramids, Swami on Rye: Max in India, Max Makes a Million, Max in Hollywood, Baby, and Ooh-la-la (Max in Love).

Kalman is a wonderful illustrator, one of my favorites. You can check out more of her work on her website.

Update: The Cut ran a long profile of Kalman by Rumaan Alam last month.

Brutalist architecture built with Lego

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2018

Brutal Lego

Brutal Lego

Brutal Lego

The proprietor of the @brutsinlego account and his/her children build simple Brutalist structures out of Lego and post the results to Instagram.

BTW, the term Brutalist does not refer to the frequently brutal (adj. “direct and lacking any attempt to disguise unpleasantness”) appearance of buildings built in this style, but after the French term béton brut (raw concrete) that describes the unfinished concrete surfaces of these buildings.

Further BTW: Google Translate variously translates “brut” to “gross”, “raw”, “crude”, “undefined”, “dry”, and “rude”. Brut and brutal also likely have the same Latin root, so to some extent, the assumption that Brutalism refers to the blunt appearance of these buildings has some merit.

Connecticut silk

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 03, 2018

Did you know Connecticut nearly had a silk production industry? Atlas Obscura has a short history of that silk adventure, from mulberry trees, to attics, speculative bubbles and lumpy thread.

By 1826, three out of every four households in Mansfield, Connecticut, were raising silkworms, and by 1826, Congress commissioned a report on the potential for a U.S. silk industry. By 1840, Connecticut outpaced other states in raw silk production by a factor of three. Within the next two decades, however, the industry would collapse, leaving the country to wonder what went wrong.

Silk

One of the biggest triumphs for the early industry was figuring out how to adapt sericulture to cold weather. Such tactics included keeping silkworms warm by raising them in attics, and figuring out how to feed them in cold weather.

Leaves

The product they ended up with was adequate for sewing thread, but not strong enough for the industrial-silk-manufacturing infrastructure that Connecticut had begun to build. According to one scathing assessment, “Connecticut women in 70 years have not improved their knowledge of reeling.” Another issue, Stockard says, was the expectation that women could reel silk “whenever leisure from other duties permitted.” In other words, women were supposed to wedge a high-skill, time-intensive task into their already full workloads, and the result was sub-par silk.


(Via @justinpickard.)

The Face of Distracted Driving

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

Filmmaker Errol Morris has made a pair of videos for AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign against distracted driving, which “kills an average of 8 people every day in the US”. Each video features the friends and family of someone who was killed in a car accident as a result of texting while driving.

Fair warning: do not watch that second video unless you want your coworkers to see you sobbing at your desk. I very rarely look at my phone while driving and let me tell you, even that little bit stops today.

Morris joins his friend and fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog in the campaign against distracted driving. Herzog made a 35-minute documentary about texting while driving back in 2013.

A helpful meditation exercise for use in public places

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

Meg Lewis recently shared a Public Place Meditation Exercise for when you’re in a place that might not be conducive to normal meditation (on the subway, in a coffeeshop, at the airport).

Public Meditation Exercise

Here are the next two steps:

2. Shift to a soft focus on that person and picture them in their happiest moments — Hugging a friend, picking up their kids from school, reuniting with someone they love, celebrating after some good news.

3. Now, picture them in their saddest moments and imagine what they would look like when feeling low. Feel their sadness and despair with them.

I do this kind of thing from time to time when I’m out and about, not as meditation exactly, but as a way of empathizing with others in a small way, especially those I might feel certain ways about because of personal or cultural prejudice. It’s difficult for me to remember to do this, but I always feel better and more human when I do. (via @pieratt)

In defense of boredom

posted by Tim Carmody   May 25, 2018

Monica Heisey was recently stuck on an airplane without much to do. Luckily, she made an essay out of it. “Being Bored Is Fun and Good, Sorry” is (surprisingly?) crackling with energy and insight.

In 2018, it is easy and common to be tired, depressed, burnt out, dulled, vibrating with mundane panic, desperate for the sweet release of death, etc. But to be peacefully understimulated with no relief in sight is almost impossible. The average person’s life is full of little tasks to complete, group chats to respond “haha, yeah” to, emails to circle back on, and people you went to high school with to determinedly ignore on the bus. The entire world is one giant beeping alert to things we should do or can do or will do in the future, things we are doing at that moment but could be doing faster. It’s more or less impossible to be bored. Bored means there are not thousands of to-do’s to accomplish. Bored means it doesn’t matter that there’s not. Bored means you are free. In a time of endless, empty stimuli, it is a thrill to be understimulated.

That said, I feel like there’s something of a bait-and-switch here. There’s boredom, which for me is defined by the frustration at having nothing appealing to do, and then there’s a lack of busyness or stimulation, which offers the possibility of a zen-like moment that transcends that frustration. We might call them both boredom, but they’re really not the same thing. But this is splitting hairs. The point is, opportunities for boredom can also be opportunities to be something better than busy, if you approach them the right way.

True facts about frogfish

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2018

Proto-YouTuber Ze Frank momentarily steps down from his executive perch at Buzzfeed to get back on the mic for the humorous nature documentary True Facts, which is “f(bleep)ing back” following a three-year hiatus. This episode is about the elegant & graceful frogfish. (via andy)